Wheaton Academy’s soccer players probably set a tournament record for “selfies” Sunday at Toyota Park.
Evanston’s girls? They focused on the task at hand and took care of business, capturing the consolation championship --- the first in tournament history --- at the PepsiCo Showdown with a 3-0 blanking of Wheaton at the home of the MLS Chicago Fire.
Evanston’s picture-taking came as part of a trophy celebration in the post-game. The Wildkits are in the midst of the most brutal stretch of games in program history, which began last Friday with pool play in the Naperville North Invitational. They’ll play games on seven straight days, with Central Suburban League South division tests against New Trier, Waukegan and Niles West Monday through Wednesday.
Thursday and Saturday they’ll play more rounds of the Naperville tourney, which adds up to 8 games in 9 days. Despite that physical challenge, the Wildkits, have embraced their role with a one-game-at-a-time approach. That approach paid off in the second half Saturday as Maureen Kerr recorded a goal and an assist and Alex Berkley and Kira Favakeh each netted goals and pushed ETHS to 13-4 on the season.
“We’re just going for one win at a time. I didn’t make up the schedule,” noted ETHS second-year head coach Maurizio Grillo. “I know all of these games have a toll on our players. That’s a lot of running and a lot of playing time for them. The biggest challenge for us is going to be our physical conditioning. We planned our conditioning long-term for the season, but we didn’t plan for this intense a schedule.
“I was a little annoyed by the way we played in the first half, because I thought we were being too conservative. At halftime I just told the girls go for it. What do you have to lose? I’m glad they kept pushing and kept trying to score, because I know this game was important for them.”
Many of the Wildkits compared playing at Toyota Park to their football counterparts dreaming of playing at Soldier Field, or baseball players stepping onto a place like Wrigley Field.
“We were screaming and yelling on the bus (last week) when we found out we’d get to play here,” said senior co-captain Morgan Muno. “We’ve been looking forward to this for a couple of weeks now. This stadium is awesome, and this is definitely the highlight of my senior year!
“After the Barrington game (6-0 loss on Friday in Naperville pool play) we got re-charged. Now I think we can carry this momentum over against New Trier. All of these games matter to us. We just need to keep our momentum going.”
“It’s really cool because we don’t usually get to play in big place like this,” added Berkley, a sophomore. “I have been to a couple of Fire games, but I didn’t really follow the MLS growing up. I guess I’m more of a European soccer fan.
“Scoring a goal here really made it awesome, and the reaction of the fans (including her parents and siblings in the ETHS section of the stands) was really cool, too. I just dribbled it and shot it after Maureen passed it to me. I didn’t think it would go in, but it was a hard shot and the goalie couldn’t get it.”
Berkley’s goal came after a Kerr steal at midfield in the 44th minute for a Kits team that had dominated the first half in terms of possession and shots on goal, but came up empty on the scoreboard.
Kerr followed with a successful penalty kick in the 60th minute, and Favakeh applied the finishing touch when she pushed the ball right, then shot back into the left corner and beat Wheaton goalie Julia McKee in the 73rd minute.
Kerr played one of her best games of the spring after making a commitment earlier in the week to play Division I soccer at Creighton University.
“It’s a weight off my shoulders, but I’m not going to stop playing hard now that I’ve made a commitment,” said the junior midfielder. “I still want to try to play my best in every game. I did have other offers, but I just thought this was the best offer for me.
“It was so cool playing here today. We’re not used to having that many fans, and the field was so nice, I just loved it. This is such a huge stadium, and I’m so happy we got to experience this. I’ll always remember I scored a goal at Toyota Park.”