Wilmette, Sports

Loyola takes it to Benet early and often to make it back-to-back state championships

Loyola Academy girls lacrosse came into the state championship with something to prove.

That sounds odd if you know the Ramblers’ pedigree, defined by 16 state championships including one earned last season.

But following a couple of slow starts in the playoffs, Loyola was determined to be ready early in the state title bout.

“We were just really pumped up because we didn’t come out too hot the (last) two games,” Loyola senior Emma Burke said. “We knew we wanted to prove something. So we just had all the energy and the whole bench at our back so we just had a lot of momentum going.”

That was very bad news for Benet Academy.

Loyola scored the first nine goals, including five in six minutes in the first quarter, to all but put the game away before halftime. The Ramblers held the Redwings at bay in the second half as well, cruising to a 14-5 victory in the state championship Saturday afternoon, June 1, at Hinsdale Central High School.

The victory gave the Ramblers their 16th overall state crown — all under the direction of head coach John Dwyer — and third (2021, 2023) since the IHSA took over control of the sport’s state series in 2019.

Dwyer said he and his staff preach that each year is independent, and he doesn’t want his players to take anything for granted.

“We don’t want them to come into (a season) over-exuberant expectations-wise,” Dwyer said. “This team, this is their state championship. That’s how we look at it. We start over each season and we’re going to start working over the summer to build again.”

The Ramblers Keira Cushing (32) pressures the Benet ball-carrier in the state championship.

Another key each season, according to Dwyer, is Loyola’s loaded schedule.

The Ramblers again played the best in the area — and some out of the area during their annual trip to the East Coast.

“We have played the equivalent of three or four state championships this year, that caliber of games,” he said, mentioning New Trier and Hinsdale Central. “… These kids just came out (today) with a purpose.”

Burke kicked off the scoring with a free-position goal 5 1/2 minutes into the game. From there, Jocelyn Park, Emily Couri, Jillian Rocchio and Burke again added tallies to give Loyola a commanding 5-0 lead after one quarter.

Five different Ramblers — Burke, Park, Molly Dwyer, Annie Devine and Keira Cushing (2) — scored in the second quarter as Loyola built an 11-1 halftime advantage.

With the large disparity, much of the second half was played with a running clock as Loyola worked toward its state title.

Burke finished with four goals and three assists. Park added three goals, while Couri had two. Charlie Cassady had three assists. Goalie Sofia Morino made six saves, including two on free-position shots.

Loyola senior Emma Burke celebrates one of her four goals Saturday.

The offense provided the highlights, but Loyola’s defense did its job and then some. It held the Redwings scoreless for more than 16 game minutes to start the game, and kept Benet superstar Shannon Earley — a Notre Dame recruit — off the scoreboard entirely.

“We have an older defense, so we’ve been playing together for a while (and) have a lot of good connections,” Burke said. “We knew to trust each other.”

Dwyer also credited his team’s advantage in draw controls, led by freshman specialist Chloe Mangel, and the return and play of Park.

Park was playing just about a month after a wrist injury and surgery. She credited her teammates for helping her get back to her old self, even with a cast on her arm.

“Obviously I had some doubts in my head that I wouldn’t be at the same place as I was when I went out,” she said. “But my teammates have been super supportive of me since I got hurt and got back, which gave me the confidence to get back to the way I was.”

Rivals Loyola Academy and New Trier traded IHSA state championships the previous four years. In 2022, the Ramblers lost by one goal to the Trevians twice, including in a New Trier comeback win in the sectional championship. But Loyola turned it around in 2023 and this year.

This time around, Loyola overcame New Trier 10-9 in four overtimes in the sectional championship and finished off their title run with wins over Evanston (21-6), Hinsdale Central (7-3) and finally Benet Academy.

“This has been the goal since the start of the season,” Park said. “We’ve been working real hard, everyone has been pushing themselves since November and we’ve been pushing each other, which is why we ended up here.”

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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