So now, it is down to this.
With two 1-0 results in Saturday's semifinals, No. 3 Loyola and No. 14 Lake Forest advance to the big stage of Toyota Park in Bridgeview Sunday afternoon for the championship of the Pepsi Showdown.
The Ramblers are seeking their second consecutive title and the third in the last four years. They go in as a significant favorite over the upstart Scouts. Lake Forest has not backed down from anybody, owing impressive victories over the No. 3 (Elk Grove) and No. 2 (Plainfield North) seeds in the field.
Loyola entered the No. 4 seed, and they have already beaten three teams, Hersey, New Trier and Metea Valley, that are potential top-five teams. They enter the game 14-0-1 and have outscored their opponents by an aggregate of 55-1.
Their defense has been nothing short of astonishing, allowing just the one score in 15 games. Coach Craig Snower calls junior defender Corey Burns "one of the elite players in Illinois regardless of position." She is a destabilizing force who has a remarkable ability to disrupt and take teams out of their offensive rhythm.
On offense, the Ramblers have been buoyed by the return of senior forward Meeghan Smith. She has been dynamite in the tournament. She scored a goal and an assist in the 2-0 victory over Hersey.
Her assist to sophomore forward Margaret Walker was the offensive difference in the Ramblers' 1-0 victory over Metea Valley Saturday. "We're so excited," she said, about the prospect of defending their tournament championship.
Loyola beat Lake Forest in the semifinals of last year's tournament en route to their 1-0 victory over Lyons.
In the all-North Shore final, Scouts' coach Ty Stuckslager knows his team enters the game a considerable underdog. "We're going to give it everything we have," he said. He expressed some surprise at the remarkable improvement his team has demonstrated in the tournament.
The Scouts (9-2-1) have shown toughness and resilience throughout the tournament. Senior midfielder Abby Shipp scored in overtime to beat Elk Grove in the quarterfinal round. Against Plainfield North, freshman Carly Hoke scored on a header from a beautiful feed by Catherine Traut.
In the Scouts' stunning victory over the heavily-favored No. 8 Tigers, junior keeper Liz Clark was absolutely spellbinding, repeatedly denying Plainfield North up close. Loyola is not the only team capable of playing shut down defense. Senior Marina Katz was brilliant against Plainfield North, and sophomore Lucy Edwards (the daughter of former DePaul basketball star Kevin Edwards) is a future star with her range, speed and quickness.
The proximity of the two schools only adds to the intrigue. Clark and a couple of other Lake Forest players are connected to the FC-United club program that Snower directs.
The tournament has a way of propelling teams into a different level. "Four years ago, the first time we made the finals, that helped put our program on the map," Snower said.
On Sunday, Loyola is trying to take its program to an even higher level, and Lake Forest is ready for the same.