In 2009, the Illinois High School Association expanded to a three-class system in girls’ soccer.
Since then, the Marquette Explorers have been one of the Class 1A state powerhouses, winning seven straight regional championships, six consecutive sectional titles and enjoying three top-four finishes at the state tournament, including its first championship in 2011.
“We had a lot of good coaches recently and a lot of good players from around here,” Marquette senior Bailey Hartrich said. “We always had a good program. Both girls and boys are pretty good. The school is really supportive.”
The Explorers defeated Metro-East Lutheran 9-0 in the Class 1A Marquette Regional semifinals on Tuesday at Gordon Moore Park. Marquette earned the No. 1 seed in the five-team regional tournament. Tuesday’s win advances them to the regional final at 4:30 p.m. Friday vs. Roxana.
“We’re definitely excited about it,” Hartrich said of being the top seed. “It’s a huge accomplishment for us this year.”
The Explorers wrapped up their regular season last week with a 5-0 loss to Rochester, the same team that eliminated Marquette in the super-sectionals the last two years.
Rochester moved up to Class 2A this year.
Marquette finished its regular season at 9-9-3 after losing three straight matches. A year ago, the Explorers won 19 matches.
During the season, Marquette had injuries to three of its key players, seniors Lauren Schmickley and juniors Annabelle Copeland and Ketaura Ngwa.
“This year, we had injury after injury,” Marquette coach Steve Mitchell said. “If you go from one injury to the next and you play two games with your regular squad and somebody gets hurt, you have to change the lineup. We’re juggling the lineup and we’re juggling the players and trying to put in the best lineup when we’re missing one or two players.”
Girls’ soccer was played under a two-class system for seven years before expanding in 2009. Before 2009, the Explorers won just two regional championships.
Mitchell said the reason Marquette has been successful the last seven years is because of its tough schedule. Five of the Explorers’ losses this year were to Class 3A schools.
“Being a small school playing against schools that have big enrollment, about 80 percent of their soccer team, the kids are bigger, faster and stronger,” Mitchell said. “They play it for a reason because it makes them tougher to get them ready for the smaller schools. It’s a benefit, but it’s a little harder than normal. The last couple of years, we had to squeak through without getting hurt.”
In 2009, Marquette won a regional title, captured its first sectional championship in school history and earned its first state trophy after placing second in the Class 1A state tournament.
Two years later, the Explorers won their first state title after beating Herscher 5-0 in the championship game. Marquette returned to state in 2013, which was Mitchell’s first year as Marquette coach, and placed third.
Mitchell said he was ecstatic when his team placed third at state three years ago.
“It was really good,” said Mitchell, who replaced Rob Moginot as coach in 2013. “We had a really good group then. Marquette has been known as a soccer school. They always had a good soccer tradition. We’re fortunate enough to have some good players come in. The kids gelled that year. I was fortunate to get some players who played for me select. I was a select coach before I was a high school coach. About eight of those starters that year were my select players that I had coached for several years. Then, they graduated and the next two groups after that had been good groups.”
Hartrich, Schmickley and senior Adrianna Schindler were part of the 2013 Marquette team that finished with a school-record 21 wins.
“Bailey, Adrianne and Lauren have been with me since I first started here,” Mitchell said. “We’re pretty close with those kids. I had a good relationship with them because I’ve been around them for a long time. They’re a good group of kids and they play hard every game. They listen to me and they do exactly what we ask of them and they battle and I was just trying to do the best I can for them because every kid wants to go to state finals.
“Unfortunately, when they were freshmen and we did go to state, Bailey had broken her leg a week before playoffs started, so she didn’t get to participate in state. Adrianna got hurt the first 10 minutes of the state finals, so she didn’t get to play after that. Lauren ended up having mono and she didn’t get to go either because the doctors were worried about it. All three of those kids were hurt when we qualified the first time.”
The future is still bright for the Explorers. They have 10 juniors and eight sophomores on their team and they will lose just five players to graduation.
“They still have a lot of good juniors and a lot of freshmen and sophomores,” Hartrich said. “We’re pretty young. We have a lot of sophomores playing. They’ll be fine without us. They’ll figure it out.”
Hartrich, who is a midfielder, said she’s thrilled to be playing for a program with a rich winning tradition.
“It’s an awesome opportunity,” she said. “I love playing for Marquette. I love the team and everyone. The environment is great. It’s all good.”
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