EVANSTON — The game approaches science fiction at its most delirious. Time seemingly stops or bends to the moment, and memories go blank or haywire.
After playing in a combative, exhaustive and exhilarating game against one of her greatest rivals, Lauren Caldwell struggled to get out the exact details of her proudest moment.
“I don’t remember much,” she admitted. “The ball got headed by Nora Westol, and then I think it deflected off someone else. Then I was just there, and I had to tap it in.”
The New Trier midfielder finished a volley from four yards in the 97th minute to give the Trevians a 1-0 double-overtime victory over Loyola in a Class 3A Evanston Sectional semifinal before a large crowd of about 700 Tuesday night.
Second-seeded New Trier (21-3-1) won its ninth-consecutive game and will advance to the championship game Friday against the fifth-seed Lane, who stunned top-seeded Evanston 1-0 in the first semifinal.
An eight-time defending city champion, Lane (15-4-2) created arguably one of the most iconic moments in the history of Chicago Public League soccer with the victory over the 2022 state Final Four member.
New Trier defeated Lane 3-2 in a comeback victory during group play of the Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Classic on April 12.
In her final night wearing the Loyola kit, star keeper Ellie Bradley played a game of the ages. She registered nine saves — including a couple of highlight-reel actions that seemed to defy time and space.
“They gave it their all, and I can guarantee you that we gave it we had,” Bradley said.
Loyola (11-7-3) was riding an 8-2-0 streak leading into the sectional clash.
“I am so proud of our team and my teammates," she said. "Playing a 100-minute game is not easy anytime, especially a game like today that was very physical and intense and whole time.”
Bradley’s athleticism, range and ability to cut off angles stymied the Trevians.
“Keeping up your stamina for 100 minutes is really challenging, and I am just so proud of everyone for being able to work and push themselves and give it everything they had,” Bradley said.
Five minutes prior to the goal, New Trier midfielder Lida Dodge had a free kick at the 23-yard line that floated just over the top of the bar.
The defining sequence originated off a corner by midfielder Annie Paden.
The Trevians’ pressure finally yielded a vulnerable spot against Loyola, which put on an exceptional and gutty performance.
With the possibility of a shootout looming, Caldwell sealed the deal.
“I am definitely feeling it right now,” Caldwell said. “Physically I am exhausted. Everything is about pure adrenaline.
“We kept getting chances and chances, and I think it was time we finally got one.”
Paden returned to action about two weeks after missing nearly a month with complications of a concussion she suffered aganst Lane.
Her precision, touch and feel as a free or corner kick specialist unlocks the New Trier attack.
“It was great, especially for me personally, to come back out here, and battle against some of my best friends and feel like myself again,” Paden said.
“I had that urge to be greedy, and have no fear when I was out there. There was electricity in the stadium tonight, and you just felt everything uplift our spirits.”
New Trier, Loyola and Evanston form a triangulated rivalry.
The prominent and connective thread of the FC United club program, where so many players from the three schools play together, only intensifies the depth of emotion.
“These games are really fun to play, where it’s back and forth, and we just battled the whole time,” Dodge said.
“I think we just believed in each other.”
Both sides had their moments, seized control and appeared on the verge of scoring.
In the 20th minute, New Trier forward Westol appeared to break free on the left wing.
Loyola star defender Emily Pikarski chased her down from behind and deflected the ball away.
This was a game where every possession mattered.
Pikarski was thrilling and dangerous on her free kicks.
Loyola also expertly drew in New Trier on forward pushes and sprung its counter.
“New Trier is our great rival. It’s always a competitor’s game, and we both want to win so badly,” Pikarski said.
“We fought until the end, but there was that unfortunate corner kick that had to go in. … I still thought we were the better team, but you can’t give up those last-minute corner kicks.”
Loyola senior forward Ella Couri had some dangerous moments, and sophomore midfielder Claire Brady blasted a ball from about 26 yards in the 39th minute that pushed just wide of the post.
Just moments earlier, Caldwell drove down the right sideline, and delivered a cross that nearly yielded an own-goal after a Loyola defender broke back for the deflection and then breathed a sigh of relief when it sailed off the top of the bar.
New Trier keeper Caroline Hague was the equal of Bradley. Athletic and aggressive, she came off her line to nullify the Ramblers’ attack.
She posted six saves.
“Our defense was amazing, and the reason we won the game,” Caldwell said.
Paden underscored the point.
“Their counterattacks are something. They were really dangerous. I think once we got back and the keeper was making great saves, we got it under control, and I think we were able to play our game,” she said.
With both defenses dialed in, it was going to take a perfect moment to score.
That opportunity never fully materialized until the end.
The final dividing line developed out of the Trevians’ ability to manufacture free or corner kick opportunities.
“Every time we have a set play, a restart or something, there is always the feeling that we are going to score,” Paden said.
“There was always hope and drive, and I am really glad that Lauren was the one who was able to put that ball in the back of the net.”
Lauren Caldwell earned the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor for her outstanding play.
The connected parts are telling.
“I have never been part of a team that feels like this much of a family and has so much fun together,” Dodge said.
“We all enjoy spending time together.”
Playing at Evanston was also significant.
The Trevians underwent their own reckoning at the end of April when they lost consecutive games to the Wildkits and Naperville North.
Evanston beat New Trier 3-0.
The Naperville North game was a quarterfinal of the Naperville Invitational on April 27.
On the following night, New Trier edged Loyola 2-1 in a consolation game of that tournament.
The started the current streak.
“I think that was the ultimate turning point for us,” Paden said. “We had a little blip in the season.
"We had a great game with Loyola earlier, just like tonight. They’re a great team, very talented and athletic.
“We definitely matched them, and they matched us. It came down to the little things, and that is what we focus on before every game. Tonight was a really good example of that.”
GK: Ellie Bradley
D: Sadie Merriott
D: Ellianna Seeley
D: Emily Pikarski
D: Maria Nikas
MF: Emma Shaffer
MF: Claire Brady
MF: Grace Lynch
F: Tess O’Bryan
F: Ella Couri
F: Lilianna Ciesla
GK: Caroline Hague
D: Honor Dold
D: Sadie-Grace Richardson
D: Clara Deliduka
D: Kennedy Colegrove
MF: Annie Paden
MF: Lauren Caldwell
MF: Lida Dodge
F: Sybil Evans
F: Josie Noble
F: Nora Westol
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Lauren Caldwell, sr., MF, New Trier
New Trier—Lauren Caldwell (Nora Westol), 97th minute