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Game story: Restricted Richards still too much for St. Francis in Loyola win

By Matt Le Cren, 05/02/24, 3:00PM CDT


Senior nets hat-trick after delayed prep debut; Ramblers roll 5-1

WHEATON – Loyola senior forward/midfielder Taylor Richards’ first and only season of high school soccer hasn’t gone exactly as planned.

The Wisconsin-Milwaukee recruit, who played club the past three years, suffered torn ligaments in her ankle during the first week of the season.

“I got hurt the third game of the season, was out for six weeks,” Richards said. “This is my second game back. I’m just trying to get healthy for the playoffs.”

Richards looked spectacular Wednesday, which could not be said for those defending her, en route to her first prep hat-trick in the Ramblers’ 5-1 Girls Catholic Athletic Conference Red Division road victory over St. Francis at Kuhn Memorial Stadium.

Richards, who was on a minutes-restriction, did not start the game but was sparkling in roughly 30 minutes of action.        

“It is nice to have her back,” Loyola coach Shannon Hartinger said. “Welcome back!

“Credit to her. She’s been working hard in rehab, and I think we’ve been able to slowly integrate her back in, and obviously today will be a huge confidence boost for her.

“She’s been champing at the bit to get more minutes. The plan today was to get her more minutes but then also for her to get some goals.”

Richards got both, and it didn’t take her long to get started. Junior Lilianna Ciesla opened the scoring for the Ramblers (9-6-4, 5-0-0) by chipping a 15-yard shot over the head of St. Francis goalkeeper Kennedy Karl at the 28:57 mark off the first half.

Richards then took a page from Ciesla’s book. She had the ball in space, caught Karl a few yards off her line and floated a 24-yard shot into the net for a 2-0 lead with 18:23 to go.

Five minutes later, the 5-foot-10 Richards took advantage of her significant height advantage over Karl. This time she got onto the end of a high cross from Ciesla and headed home a wide-open shot to make it 3-0.

“First goal, I got my head up, saw she was off her line a little bit,” Richards said. “I could hit it in behind, and she couldn’t get up high enough if I could float it over.

“Second one, there was just no one guarding me back post, so I was pretty open for it.”

The Ramblers dominated the midfield play in the opening half, so the visitors had plenty of scoring chances and plenty of heads and feet to find.

“We attacked a lot of balls and won a lot of the 50/50s and 1-v-1s,” Ciesla said. “We knew how to connect through the middle. I was for sure looking to Taylor and anyone on the cross into the box.”

While the Ramblers coped well without Richards, they are glad she’s finally on the field and not the bench.

“It’s really good,” Ciesla said. “I think that she brings a lot to our team.

“She’s very dynamic in the middle and helps us win the ball, so it’s really great to have her back.’

It wasn’t only Richards who excelled against St. Francis. She actually was not a part of the best of Loyola’s goals, which came at the 8:35 mark of the first half.

Claire Brady sent a sharp pass up the left wing to Emily Plovanich, who took the ball to the endline before crossing the ball in front. Macy Schultz beat a defender to the sitter and built the lead to 4-0.

That didn’t sit well with St. Francis coach Jim Winslow.

“There was a sequence of about 15 minutes or so that we just laid an egg, and it cost us,” Winslow said. “It’s frustrating.

“We were slightly flat, because it was Senior Night on Monday night and prom is this weekend. I got on them the second half and kind of challenged them, said. ‘Hey, we need to pick it up and play better because we’re capable.’

“I take nothing away from Loyola. They are a very nice team, but we can play with them.”

The Spartans (4-6-2, 1-2-1) did exactly that -- the final 40 minutes were evenly played. While the Ramblers spread time around to its reserves, the Spartans’ effort was clearly better.

“In the first half, we were obviously struggling a little bit, but we talked to Jim and he said in the playoffs, we are going to be playing teams that are just as good, so we’ve really got to step it up,” St. Francis senior midfielder Sophia Roszkowski said. “That kind of lit a fire under everyone. I feel from that point forward we were always trying to go forward and to the goal and make smart decisions, not try to hold onto the ball for too long.”

The effort paid off 3:12 after the break when Roszkowski got around the defense into to the left side of the box and fired a shot that beat Loyola goalie Chloe Zipprich. A defender cleared the ball off the line, but the alert Roszkowski followed up her own shot and knocked the rebound in off Zipprich to cut the deficit to 4-1.

Any hopes the Spartans had of staging a massive comeback ended 10 minutes later when Reynolds completed her hat-trick, taking a pass from Lily Berhalter and ripping an 18-yard shot inside the left post.

“We’ve been working a lot on making sure that our performance and results are consistent,” Hartinger said. “I think sometimes we’ve gotten a great performance but not a great result. Sometime we’ve gotten a result without a great performance.

“Today, I think we kind of put the two together and scored some great team goals, which is something we’ve been emphasizing in training. I’m proud of the girls for that.”

Adding a player like Richards to the mix is only going to make such teamwork easier.

“It’s been great to have her,” Hartinger said. “Even when she’s been injured, she’s given us so much on the sidelines.

“It’s like having an extra coach, because she’s such a smart player. It’s nice to have her working with all the players as she’s been working through her rehab.”

The Ramblers, who can clinch the conference title against Fenwick on Thursday, accomplished their mission of beating the Spartans while not overtaxing their starters. 

“I think we did a good job of getting everyone in,” Ciesla said. “I think everyone played great minutes. Whoever went in, they gave their 100 percent.”

While the Ramblers still have unfinished business in the regular-season, the Spartans now have 13 days to rest and prepare for the Class AA regional they host.

Seventh-seeded St. Francis opens the playoffs against ninth-seeded Montini in a regional semifinal at 6:30 p.m. May 14.

Will the long break be beneficial for the Spartans or will it be a detriment and make them rusty?

"Half and half,” Roszkowski said. “The advantage is that we train hard in our time off.

“So (losing) this game is going to motivate us harder for that next game, because we are approaching the playoffs. If we want to advance, we have to work three times harder.”

Loyola showed them how to do that.

“We’ve got to finish opportunities,” Winslow said. “That’s the name of the game. We had a bunch. 

"They’re a good possession team so we tried to take advantage of what they were giving us and put some in the net.

“In the second half we did a good job of battling more in the midfield. Loyola is well-coached and well-organized, and their kids play hard. I love their esprit de corps.

“We have just got to answer that for longer periods of time. That’s been an issue all year.”

Starting lineups

GK: Chloe Zipprich
D: Maria Nikas
D: Mia Wisler
D: Molly Briody
M: Mim Fritzsche
M: Grace Lynch
M: Izzy Garcia
M: Claire Brady
F: Lilianna Ciesla
F: Ellie Vehovsky
F: Lily Berhalter
St. Francis
GK: Kennedy Karl
D: Alyssa Suriano
D: Harlee Duraski
D: Maicie Schweimer
D: Maeve McGinn
D: Elle Wainscott
M: Olivia Basel
M: Sophia Roszkowski
M: Caroline Kiesler
F: Ellie Bielenda
F: Paige Chrustowski
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Taylor Richards, sr., F, Loyola.

Scoring summary

First half
Loyola: Lilianna Ciesla (Maria Nikas) 12’
Loyola: Taylor Richards (unassisted) 22’
Loyola: Richards (Ciesla) 27’
Loyola: Macy Schultz (Emily Plovanich, Claire Brady) 32’
Second half
St. Francis: Sophia Roszkowski (unassisted) 44’
Loyola: Richards (Lily Berhalter) 55’