One last ride

Kerr+sprints+up+the+pitch.
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One last ride

Kerr sprints up the pitch.

Kerr sprints up the pitch.

Photo courtesy of Julie Lucas

Kerr sprints up the pitch.

Photo courtesy of Julie Lucas

Photo courtesy of Julie Lucas

Kerr sprints up the pitch.

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On March 21, 2016, three freshmen stepped under the bright lights of Lazier Field for the first time, facing Von Steuben High School in a non conference match.

Despite a clear level of nervousness, the trio acted as though this was just another game. They knew they deserved to be there, and as the temperature neared freezing, the freshmen’s fiery spirit melted their fears.

Senior captain Hadley Bushala runs sprints on the attack.

Von Steuben proved to be no match for the Kits, as it quickly turned into a 6-0 rout.

As the VSHS Panthers began to feel their joints tighten from the cold, the Evanston newcomers pounced, as Hadley Bushala and Keara Kerr each ended with a goal and the third member of the trio, Annika Destefano, anchored the defense, ensuring a clean sheet.

Coming into their freshman season, Bushala, Destefano and Kerr faced high expectations, with aspirations of surpassing the results of a 2015 team that had finished with a record of 13-2-1, ranking number 12 in the state by the end of the year.

Naturally, the trio dealt with uneasiness early on, as varsity level soccer was unlike any competition they had faced before. But as the season progressed, it quickly became apparent that Bushala, Destefano and Kerr would become mainstays in the starting line- up and this was only a glimpse into the future.

“My freshman year [the team] was really senior-heavy, with a small number of underclassmen,” Destefano said. “Playing wise, it was hard because a lot of the girls had already been playing together and already had that chemistry on the field that I did not.”

The 2016 team would go on to finish 13-2-3, including a 6-0 conference record to take the CSL crown over perennial powerhouse New Trier.

Returning for their sophomore seasons, the trio looked to build upon the previous season’s success, while still emerging as future stars of the program.

The team went on to finish 14-6-3 overall, falling to Loyola in the Sectional Semifinal to end the year.

Coming into their junior year, expectations remained high. Despite losing star midfielder Maia Cella to the University of Wisconsin, new faces had emerged and the team was ready to reclaim the conference.

The season ended earlier than expected though, as they eventually fell in the sectional semifinals for the second year in a row, this time to New Trier. Despite this stagnation, the team was not discouraged, seeing the loss as a learning experience.

“The losses make the wins that much better. While a loss is a terrible feeling, you always learn from your losses,” Kerr said. “I think when you lose, you take account for what you can do next time in order to make that loss a  win.”

Now heading into the final season of their high school careers, senior captains Bushala, Destefano, Kerr and Kat Sehgal look to end their time at ETHS on a high note.

“I want to go out with a bang,” Bushala said. “Making sure this last one is everything I’ve been working for these past three years.”

One of the many advantages this team has over others in the past is the vast representation of each grade, as on top of the five seniors, Bushala, Destefano, Kerr, Kelly Kleschen and Sehgal, six freshmen are featured on this season’s roster.

The class of 2022 is contributing minutes for not only starting 11, but also are providing  a late spark off the bench, contributing valuable depth in grueling matches.

“[The freshmen] deserve to be here,” Bushala said. “Even the people who aren’t starters still find a way to come into the game and make an impact.”

This new freshman class shows strong correlations to that of the 2016 freshmen. The now seniors are trying to use their experiences to have a similar impact the seniors had on them their freshman year.

“When I was a freshman the seniors made me feel really comfortable and they showed me that playing for this team and for your school is a privilege so you always have to work your hardest and appreciate every minute of it,” Kerr said. “I hope that the freshmen feel the same now as I did when I was a freshman.”

This season’s team has been able to create an incredibly accepting environment, stemming from strong leadership by the senior class.

Senior captain Annika Destefano blocks a pass.

Rather than focusing upon traits such as the experience of a player, the group has chosen to focus solely on the skills a player can bring to the table.

“As a freshman on the team, you aren’t the low man on the totem pole. From day one the belief has been, ‘you’re a soccer player, you earned your spot here, and what are you going to do to make sure you earn your spot every single day,’” freshman Sarah Sollinger explained. “[The seniors] hold everybody to the exact same standards, and they treat you like their friends, because we are all friends. That creates a really positive atmosphere where we can all be as successful as we can.”

The trio’s responsibility as mentors does not distract them from the fact that this is their final year to make a run at the state title, a goal they’ve held their entire career. Seeing this team as potentially their strongest ever, they have everyone on the team buying into the belief that this is their year to bring home the state championship.

“I think we’re all really hungry. We know we have the talent,” Destefano said. “We have a lot of girls who really have their hearts entirely in the game, and I think they’re really trying to win and give it their all.”

The impact that the three four-year starters have had on the ETHS soccer program has been substantial, pushing the team to consistent success. Now, as they head off to play at their respective colleges, with Bushala heading to NYU, Destefano to Cornell and Kerr to Miami of Ohio, they’ll leave Lazier, the field they first stepped onto as varsity starters just four years ago, owning some of the greatest legacies in ETHS soccer history.