A journey ended and evolved simultaneously for Loyola Academy girls soccer on Friday, May 27.
To begin the 2019 season, the Ramblers hit reset on its program with a new coach, Shannon Hartinger, who was joined for the new beginnings by six freshmen on her first varsity group.
Four years later, Hartinger credited the now-senior group with creating a special place that will continue to benefit future Ramblers.
“They’ve really built the program and the community to be such a positive place that people can thrive in,” Hartinger said. “We didn’t get the result we wanted tonight but when I step back and look at all the things we accomplished and they’ve done to our program, I know I’m going to smile. They’ve taken us in the right direction and we’re so grateful for all they’ve done.”
The path of the original six seniors (Grace Ehlert, Molly Sipe, Kathryn Diblik, Kaitlyn Kurtz, Isabella Guzman and Maya Basan) and more recent senior additions ended with a 5-1 loss to the Ramblers’ local nemesis Evanston in the sectional championship Friday in New Trier’s stadium in Northfield.
The Wildkits are 5-0, including two sectional wins, against the Ramblers in the past four seasons.
The sectional-final appearance marks the longest playoff run for Loyola Academy under Hartinger, and in the tenure of seniors like Ehlert, who was selected as the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference’s player of the year.
“Just to be able to build a program like this that has done pretty well and gained some attention and is well respected, it’s unfortunate we couldn’t go farther, but I’m proud of everyone on our team and I’m grateful to have been a part of it,” Ehlert said.
Evanston and Loyola played even soccer for the first 20 or so minutes Friday evening until the Wildkits broke through.
The first goal was followed 10 minutes later by a second — and then a third and quickly a fourth just before the half.
“Once they got the first goal, I just think we weren’t able to recover,” Ehlert said. “I’m not sure exactly what it was. We weren’t the team we normally are.”
Facing a four-goal deficit in the second half, the Ramblers improved in nearly all facets of play, but the sectional title was already out of reach.
Evanston’s Brealyn Viamille tapped home her third goal of the game, and Ehlert tallied on a penalty kick for Loyola’s lone goal to reach the final score.
“I think we did a better job of creating chances in the final third, but I think when you’re down like we were in the first half it’s difficult to mount a comeback,” Hartinger said. “In the second half, it was just us playing for pride and to show that we do belong in a sectional championship game.”
The Ramblers proved that throughout the season, compiling an 18-4-1 record overall and 5-0 mark in the GCAC Red to earn a conference championship.
In the postseason, Loyola stayed hot, besting Leyden (5-0) and Whitney Young (5-1) to win a regional championship. It then ousted No. 2-seeded Maine South 2-1 in a sectional semifinal May 24.
The victories set up a match with top-seeded Evanston and its 20-2 record and Central Suburban South championship.
While it was a difficult ending for the Ramblers, Hartinger and Ehlert know that one result is not indicative of the program’s current standing.
“We won’t let one game define us,” Hartinger said. “… We know it wasn’t our best performance tonight, but we’re not going to let this define our season and the great things we’ve done.
“It’s a special group. It’s why we were on the field for 30 minutes after the game. The seniors have really reshaped our program. We have been on this journey together and for me as a coach, this is a special group.”