GLENVIEW—A disruptive defense and a diversified offense enabled Loyola to win its 17th regional championship by blanking Niles West 3-0 on Friday evening on their Munz Athletic Campus pitch.
The hard-earned victory sends the Ramblers to the Evanston Class 3A Sectional where they’ll play a semifinal match against New Trier at 6:30 p.m. May 23.
Although the third-seeded Ramblers (11-6-3) controlled the ball in the regional title match, no. 6-seed Niles West (14-6-1) limited their scoring opportunities.
Loyola still was able to put three on the scoreboard. Lilianna Ciesla, Ellie Vehovsky and Mim Fritzsche all were in the right place at the right time when they scored against Niles West goalkeeper Mikayla Saunders.
“The cross from the left side hit off Sadie Merriott,” Ciesla said recounting the icebreaker in the eighth minute. “There was a loose ball, and I kicked in a low shot on the short side.”
Ellie Vehovsky used her chest to score the second goal approaching the midway point in the second half.
“One of our center midfielders sent the ball flying in from the right side,” she said. “It hit the keeper. I took the deflection and hit it in with my chest.”
Fritzsche was standing to the side of the left post when she headed in the third goal with 11:09 to play in the contest.
“Emily Plovanich made a great cross from the right side, and I happened to be in the perfect position,” Fritsche said.
Unlike her Niles West counterpart Saunders, Loyola sophomore goalie Ellie Bradley didn’t have to cope with any shots from close-in or loose ball scrambles adjacent to the goal.
“I was pleased with our defensive effort,” Loyola coach Shannon Hartinger said in critiquing the Ramblers’ fourth-straight victory. “It was important to try to disrupt without relying solely on our center backs and keeper. When there was pressure our center backs handled it well.
“I’m very proud of the way the girls have continued to work and step up, and our results (in recent games) show it.
“All season our scoring has been balanced. We don’t have any 20-goal scorers. We have 17 or 18 people who have scored, which is great. We want to seize the moment, and tonight was a great example of that.”
Midfielders Emma Shaffer, Grace Lynch and Claire Brady collaborated with defenders Emily Pikarski and Ellianna Seeley to repeatedly thwart the Wolves’ attempts to make inroads into the Loyola half of the field. Niles West senior forwards Mia Cejovic and Victoria Kutkovska found themselves with precious few opportunities for meaningful attacks.
Nevertheless, Niles West (14-6-1) played with great intensity.
“We came in super-excited. We came out hard, and we battled the whole game,” said senior midfielder Maja Applequist, who will be playing college soccer for North Park next season. “We did the best we could.”
“It was a 1-0 game; it wasn’t a 3-0 game,” contended Niles West Coach Steven Villamil.
“The fact that they got a goal early changed our whole approach. There were a few key things that went wrong.”
While the loss in the regional title game came as a disappointment, it didn’t diminish the Wolves milestone season. The team’s 14 triumphs equaled the school record.
“I don’t even want to talk about this game,” Villamil told his team afterward. “You pushed, you pushed, you pushed.
“You started the season together; you’re ending the season together. There’s one thing I want to leave you with: you’re always welcome back.”
The victory earned Loyola’s third-consecutive regional plaque.
The Ramblers have played each of the teams in the upcoming sectional. Loyola lost to second-seeded New Trier 2-1 in a consolation pool match of the Naperville Invitational on April 28.
Against the other semifinalists, Loyola tied: host and top-seeded Evanston 2-2 on March 27; and fifth-seeded Lane 0-0 in the season-opener March 14.
Each team was ranked in the season-ending Chicagoland Soccer Top 25. Evanston led the way at no. 7; New Trier was ninth; Lane was no. 17; and Loyola was no. 19.
GK: Mikayla Saunders
D: Mia Koeberi
D: Delaney Gin
D: Jillian Rudin
D: Mila Albazi
MF: Maja Applequist
MF: Claire Georgees
MF: Linnea Applequist
MF: Megan Gartner
F: Mia Cejovic
F. Victoria Kutkovska
GK: Ellie Bradley
D: Maria Nikas
D: Sadie Merriott
D: Emily Pikarski
D: Ellianna Seeley
MF: Emma Shaffer
MF: Grace Lynch
MF: Claire Brady
F: Ellie Vehovsky
F: Lillianna Ciesia
F: Tess O’Bryan
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Lillianna Ciesla, so., F, Loyola
Loyola—Lilliana Ciesla (Sadie Merriott), 8th minute
Loyola—Ellie Vehovsky (Tess O’Bryan), 59th minute
Loyola—Mimi Fritzsche (Emily Plovanich), 69th minute