WINNETKA -- A senior class sets the foundation for a program. They’re the glue of the team, what keeps the program going and who the underclassmen go to when they need something.
That is no more evident than in programs like North Shore Country Day, which has 219 students in its upper (high) school. The Raiders only have four seniors on the team this spring, but they have played an outsized role in integrating the numerous underclassmen on the varsity squad.
The Raiders celebrated those seniors when they took on Mather in their final regular-season game Thursday afternoon at the Skokie Playfields.
The game ended as a 0-0 draw, but both managers left happy after what they saw on the field.
“I loved that they competed until the end,” North Shore Country Day manager Rebekah Kauffman said. “It’s fun to see them pursue the ball, pursue the goal and be courageous to go for it.
“Today we tried to go for the win. We couldn’t score, but we tried our hardest.”
“I love how the girls competed,” Mather manager Enrique Cervantes said. “The best thing I’ve always taught them is to hustle, hustle. No matter what, no matter the type of playing level you’re at, you hustle. And when you’re around your opponent, you can have a really good game.
“They always hustled and kept playing until the whistle.”
Despite his squad getting to the field late and having little time to warmup, Cervantes’ squad applied pressure on the Raiders’ defense, putting multiple shots on frame but firing just wide.
Things flipped in the second half. North Shore Country Day not only controlled much of the possession, but also put numerous shots on frame, particularly from senior Suraiyya Omar and freshman Reese Meyers.
The two combined for five shots on frame after halftime. Some were on the doorstep of the Rangers’ goal but were thwarted by the Mather defense.
“In the first half of the game, you get a read of how the teams want to play,” North Shore Country Day senior defender Lauren Gallagher said. “They had one player, number 18 (Nicole Padilla), that played all over a lot. After we saw how they were playing, we picked up on how to stop them. We did a lot of running to the ball. In the first half it seemed more 50/50.”
“We were really connecting, putting passes together,” said Omar, who was named the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match for her performance. “We had so many shots; it was frustrating we couldn’t get one.”
Omar is a four-year varsity player, though her freshman season was lost due to the pandemic. That 2020 team figured to have a chance to return to the state finals for a third-straight season. The Raiders were the Class A runnerup the previous two seasons.
Even though she only got to play about two weeks with the likes of players like Allie Charnas, Caroline Segal and three-time Chicagoland Soccer All-State player Edith Edwards-Mizel, Omar learned a lot about not only the game of soccer, but how to be a team leader as well.
“The year I came in, the talent was insane,” she said. “Getting to play with them, even if it was just for two weeks, it was just an honor to play with them. I felt like I improved just exponentially.
“It made me want to push myself even more. Watching them do what they did, you couldn’t not learn from them. I really wish I could have played with them.”
Kauffman’s first year in charge was up and down. That was not hard to figure with the number of freshmen and sophomores on the squad this spring.
Even though the senior class was small this season, Kauffman saw what it meant to the younger players and hopes that it will carry over to future seasons.
“The senior class has meant everything,” she said. “When you have a new coach coming in your senior year, even though I was an assistant before, it gives you the opportunity to establish the program you want.
“They did that. They bring energy, enthusiasm, kindness and positivity, so that it’s a program people want to be a part of. They led everything from introducing themselves to every freshman to making sure everyone has a ride to being the people that serve first before they make other people do it.
“They set the standard for what we’re looking for.”
Gallagher, who is playing her third season on the varsity squad, has fond memories.
“I love playing the game, but it’s really the people on the team that make it special,” she said. “Everyone is so community based that it helps build strong friendships among all different grades. At bigger schools I wouldn’t be able to have the type of connection that I have with the freshmen.”
Both teams will now get ready for the state playoffs. North Shore Country Day, seeded fifth, is a regional host and will welcome 4-seed Regina Dominican at 4 p.m. Wednesday for a semifinal match.
North Shore Country Day hopes to see a benefit from playing larger Mather.
“These games honestly help us because it allows us to play a different variety of schools, and we can see the different strategies smaller schools have from bigger schools,” Omar said. “It makes us ready to play in any situation we’re faced with.”
No. 15 seed Mather has the unenviable task of opening against second-seeded and 2022 Class AA third place finisher Deerfield at 4:30 p.m. May 16 at Ridgewood. The North Shore Country Day match filled in a dead spot between the end of the Chicago Public League schedule and the state tournament.
“It’s really important to get some games in before the state playoffs,” Cervantes said. “We were fortunate here to come out and play. Sometimes it can be good or bad to play before a state game because something happens, but getting one good game in with no injuries is so important.
“All next week we’re going to have to hit the practice field, working on some techniques and getting some sessions in that are going to help us for the state series.”
GK: Julissa Az
D: Elizabeth Estrada
D: Natalie Maldonado
D: Madison Tillet
D: Danitzy Rosillo
MF: Angelina Barranda
MF: Karla Acuna
MF: Dayami Tapia
MF: Evelynn Ruiz
F: Ashley Roman
F: Nicole Padilla
North Shore Country Day
GK: Margaret Fitzgerald
D: Lauren Gallagher
D: Dixie Oelerich
D: Isabel Roberts
D: Meonda Collins
MF: Reese Meyers
MF: Daisy Stone
MF: Suraiyya Omar
MF: Marina Bullock-Puzon
MF: Carly Lissner
F: Ellia Yarandi
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Suraiyya Omar, sr., F, North Shore Country Day