Uncertainty surrounded the Ramblers at the start of the season. The biggest unknown was how the players would respond to a new head coach.
The Ramblers proved their resiliency and were rewarded Thursday by beating Fenwick 1-0 on the road to capture a fourth consecutive GCAC Red championship.
“I think there were some people who may have underestimated us,” Loyola junior midfielder and captain Meredith Phillips said. “Winning the conference means a lot.”
Loyola (9-6-2, 4-0-1) tied St. Ignatius for first place with 13 points. While the two rivals tied 1-all on March 19, the Ramblers surrendered less goals (3) in league play than the Wolfpack.
Freshman midfielder Kaitlyn Kurtz scored the game’s lone goal early in the first half off an assist from freshman forward Grace Ehlert (pictured above). Senior keeper Katherine Jaros earned the shutout, the team’s third of the season.
“Our defense has played so strong, and that gives me confidence,” Jaros said. “They make it really easy on me when the other team barely gets off a shot.”
Shannon Hartinger, Loyola’s first-year head coach, said the team continues to improve. Thursday’s victory was the Ramblers’ third in a row. They close out the regular season Saturday at Carmel before starting the Class 3A state series Wednesday at home against Lincoln Park. Loyola is the No. 5 seed at the New Trier Sectional.
“The biggest thing for me is that we are getting better and better and are coming together at the right time,” Hartinger said. “We attacked really well [Thursday] and gave ourselves a lot of scoring opportunities. Our challenge remains to put more balls in the back of the net. Our defense played well and put a lot of pressure on them. We didn’t allow them any kind of attack.”
When the postseason begins, Loyola will be looking for its 11th regional title in a row and first sectional championship since 2013. Regardless of what happens next, Jaros said she considers this season a success.
“It’s been incredibly rewarding,” she said. “We were kind of unsure of how things would go, but we had faith in ourselves. We are ready for the playoffs.”
Photo credit: Margo Grogan/Sports Depiction