On March 19, 1985, Granite City High School introduced a new sport — girls’ soccer.
That day, the Warriors’ first match was a memorable one as they knocked off the Pattonville Pirates 2-0.
Since that first match, the Warriors have continued to pile up victories. After 30 years, Granite City is still one of the top girls’ soccer teams in the state, winning 445 matches with seven regional championships, 10 sectional titles and five top-four state tournament finishes, including a state championship in 2011.
“I thought it would be an excellent program,” said Mike Velloff, the Warriors’ first coach. “Granite City had a feeder girls’ soccer program from the Park District that had over 600 girls age 8 up to right before high school. They had a large girls’ program going on, more than any other place around. With that program feeding the high school, you had all of those girls coming out.”
Granite City was just the second school in the Metro East to have a girls’ soccer team in 1985. Collinsville started its girls’ soccer program in 1984.
The Warriors had a large turnout in their first season, having 83 girls signing up and 72 of them attending the first practice.
“We didn’t cut anybody,” Velloff said. “We kept them all.”
The Warriors played mostly Missouri schools. Besides Pattonvillle, Granite City also played Hazelwood West, Ritenour, McCluer and Mehlville, among others.
Collinsville was the only Illinois school the Warriors played in their first season. The two teams split their two matches, with Granite City winning the first meeting 5-4.
“The first game we played them was on Saturday,” Velloff said. “It was spring and the wind was blowing hard. We took a chance to giving up the wind in the first half and we were down going into the second half. We had the wind in our back and we won that first game.”
Prior to accepting the job at Granite City, Velloff spent six years at Alton Marquette as coach of the junior varsity boys’ soccer team.
Haig Nighohossian was Velloff’s assistant and head junior varsity coach. From 1985-1987, Nighohossian coached his JV team to a 32-1 record.
“In our first years, we really enjoyed the girls,” Velloff said. “They enjoyed playing and some of them never really got involved in anything. They got involved in soccer. We explained to them that we’ll do what we can to get you into the games.”
Kathy Thornsberry, Dawn Schwartz and Maria Parra shared captain duties and Diana Takmajian was the team’s goalkeeper. The Warriors also had strong efforts from Linda Kuberski, Robin York and Angie Moore.
Moore, who was then a sophomore, scored two goals in the Warriors’ first match against Pattonville, making her the first Granite City player to score a goal.
“Angie Moore was one of the younger players who came out when the program started,” Velloff said. “She was an underclassman and she was a dynamite ball player.”
Velloff said during the first season, his team impressed several college coaches.
“I had a coach from Chicago come down and we were playing a game,” Velloff said. “He came up to me right after the half and he said I would like to talk to all of your girls on the field. I said I would like to have that one and that one and that one for college. I said well you’re welcome to talk to the seniors, but some of them you’re pointing out are sophomores and freshmen and some of those are juniors.”
Velloff coached the Warriors from 1985-87. During that period, there was no girls’ soccer postseason tournament in Illinois.
“It took a while to get that state playoff,” Velloff said. “The IHSA didn’t want to do it. They said they didn’t have enough high school teams. They didn’t think it was fair. But Missouri had only 50 high school girls’ teams and they had a state playoff.”
The IHSA had its first girls’ soccer postseason tournament in 1988, but Velloff didn’t return as Granite City coach that season. Gene Baker took over head coaching duties that year and went on to become the winningest coach in Granite City girls’ soccer history with 205 victories. He also coached his team to three top-four finishes in the state tournament.
“We played a lot of teams from across the river where the girls’ soccer programs have been going on for a while and they had a state playoff,” Velloff said. “We pushed for it. I spent time up at Chicago meeting with the high school officials as well as the IHSA. They finally agreed that they were going to have a state playoff and we were set to go. The next thing you know, Gene Baker had the team and I was out.”
After going 6-6 in Velloff’s final season as Granite City girls’ soccer coach in 1987, the Warriors won 13 matches in 1988. Three years later, Granite City made the first of its nine state tournament appearances and finished fourth.
The Warriors placed fourth again in 1994 and finished third in 1996.
After Baker retired in 2000, Gene Briggs took over as head coach in 2001. During his eight and a half seasons as coach, the Warriors won 141 matches, captured four regional championships and went to state three times. In 2005, Granite City knocked off Edwardsville 2-1 in double overtime in the Class AA Quincy Sectional championship match on a goal by Alex Hartwick to snap an eight-year state tournament drought.
The Warriors won a school record 24 matches in 2006 and placed third at state in 2007.
Skip Birdsong took over the Warriors midway through the 2009 season and coached them to a regional championship. Two years later, he coached the Warriors to their first state championship as Granite City beat Naperville North 1-0 in the state title match, making it the first time the school won a state championship in a girls’ sport.
Kenny Prazma became the Warriors’ fifth head coach in 2012. This spring, he coached the Warriors to their first regional championship since 2011, the year they won it all.
Ironically, the Warriors’ 2015 season ended the same way it did in 1985 — a 1-0 loss to Collinsville. On May 26, 2015, Granite City was shut out by the Kahoks in the Class 3A Joliet Central Sectional semifinals.
On May 11, 1985, the Warriors ended their first season with a 1-0 loss to the Kahoks in the regular season finale for both teams at Collinsville.
Velloff, who headed the Alton Marquette boys’ and girls’ soccer programs for numerous years, said despite the heartbreaking loss to Collinsville, he was thrilled to coach the first-ever Granite City girls’ soccer team.
“We had a good team and excellent players,” Velloff said.
After 30 years, they still do.