Loyola's impressive spring campaign continued as they secured their place in semifinals of the PepsiCo Showdown on Thursday evening with a 2-0 victory over visiting St. Charles North at the Munz Athletic Campus in Glenview.
Next up for the No. 2 seed is its longtime crosstown rival New Trier this Saturday at Olympic Park in Schaumburg after the Trevians beat Huntley 1-0 last night.
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"St. Charles North was everything, and more, but we kind of expected exactly that from a team that is coached so well by Ruth (Vostal) and is such an experienced team, with several quality seniors on its roster," said Loyola head coach Craig Snower, who shortly will earn his 200th career victory.
"They came out very strong, and put us under for the first 7-8 minutes, but that first goal really helped us settle down, and after that, we just had to deal with the pressure and effort they brought, while keeping an eye on No. 22 (Sophie Pohl) and No. 7 (Ashlyn Walter) who were both very strong players for them."
The North Stars (7-2-0) indeed were on the front foot from the opening whistle, and on the big wide turf, the visitors had its undefeated hosts struggling to deal with the pace and energy this club has been known for.
"We came out so strong (we) were all over them -- but that first goal kind of changes the way we were playing until the second half," offered Walter, who poured in the game-winner on Tuesday against Hersey to help her club advance into the quarterfinals.
"We had a terrific start, but that goal, which I'd have to see again in order to figure out if it was a defensive lapse, or something else, really seemed to deflate us," admitted Vostal.
"We were able to do a few things after falling behind, but we lost what we had at the beginning, and it took us awhile to get it back."
It was the Ramblers (11-0-0) all-state midfield candidate Tori Iatarola who brought her side to life when her snapshot in a crowd surprised the Stars in close -- while somehow finding the far inside netting in the 8th minute.
It was obvious, even before the Iatarola goal, that Loyola would play through the senior as often as it could, as the program's all-time leader in assist had her eye on targets Devin Burns (35 goals in 2013) and Lia Baldo, both who had offseason ACL surgery, and each, who Snower says are getting closer to being 100 percent fit.
"Devin was key in that first goal because she created space for Tori, and Lia did it all on her own to help us extend our lead when St. Charles was pushing to find the equalizer," said Snower.
The Stars had their sights on doing just that in the first period, but a strong tackle from Alex Yasko stopped Taylor Sypien, after her mates, Hanna Durocher and Pohl create a chance for the junior.
Just before intermission, Walter, who turned in a wonderful 80-minute performance, put Morgan Rerko through, only to have Ramblers keeper Lauren Smith come far off her line to deny Rerko the chance to strike from in close.
Loyola presented the Stars with a handful of corners in the second half, but Smith, and her back line mates did well to defend each of them, much to the delight of its coach.
"(Pohl) is so dangerous in the box because of her size and strength, so we had to double-team her on those dead-balls, and, fortunately for us, we did a pretty good job against a player of her skill," said Snower.
Led by Jenny Barr, Kathleen Murphy, Megan O'Leary and Durocher along the back, the Stars kept their shape and organization strong while Loyola looked to double its advantage, while on the other side of the ball, Walters' and company did its best to find a way to get back even.
"Our work rate and energy was so much better in the second half, but we just weren't as good as we needed to be in the final third to get into the back of the net," said Walter.
The aforementioned Baldo would dash the hopes of the Stars when the big forward teed up a long-range strike to make it 2-0 in the 68th minute.
"It was a disappointing loss, but one that we needed to go through in order to help us deal with a result like this later on down the road when the games count for so much more," said Vostal.
The North Stars will await to hear who its opponent will be when it completes its first tournament appearance in the PepsiCo Showdown.