GODFREY – The Alton Redbirds are off to a flying start in Nick Funk’s first season as head coach.
After pulling off a 2-1 win over the Granite City Warriors on Tuesday at Piasa Motor Fuels Field, Alton is 7-2 overall and 2-1 in Southwestern Conference play.
“The season so far has been good,” Funk said. “Obviously, you want to keep clean sheets (shutouts) every time. We would love to be 9-0, but that’s not realistic right now. We’ve done well and we stayed close in the games that we lost. They’re playing hard and they’re playing intense, so I’m pleased with that.”
Now, the Redbirds hope to stay over the .500 mark the rest of the way. A year ago, Alton was 7-2-2 before going 2-8-1 in its last 11 matches to finish 9-10-3 in Jay Robertson’s final season as coach.
“We have to continue to come out in the first few minutes ready and willing to play hard,” Funk said. “Our biggest hurdle right now is waking up early. If we come out in the beginning of the game, we usually do well.”
Alton’s next match will be against Gibault at 11 a.m. Saturday at Piasa Motor Fuels Field.
The Redbirds got off to a 4-0 start before losing to Quincy on Sept. 3.
“I expected that,” Alton senior Skylar Funk said. “Coach worked us hard and we deserved that.”
On Tuesday, the Redbirds got goals from Funk and Matt Paulda in the first 15 minutes of the match to seal the victory over the Warriors.
“That’s the first time we jumped off that fast since the third game of the season,” Nick Funk said. “That’s good that we finally got our intensity back because it usually takes us a while to kind of come out with that kind of fire. It’s a good thing to see them ready and willing to play, especially in conference matches.”
The Warriors dropped to 1-3-4. After defeating Sacred Heart-Griffin on Saturday for its first win of the season, Granite City lost back-to-back matches to Alton teams in span of 24 hours.
The Warriors lost 4-1 to Marquette Catholic at Gordon Moore Park on Monday. On Tuesday, Alton handed Granite City its first loss in conference play.
“Saturday was a good victory for us,” Granite City coach Kenny Jackson said. “It’s nice to get a win obviously. It would be nice to get a couple of other ones, but every Southwestern Conference game is going to be a dogfight, especially when you spot a team two goals.”
Skylar Funk gave the Redbirds a 1-0 lead with 35 minutes 25 seconds left in the first half. He received a pass from Noah Henry and scored his first goal of the season.
“It was a great feeling,” Skylar Funk said. “That’s what we tried to do in the first 10 minutes and that’s trying to get ahead and keep getting motivated.”
Paulda scored his first goal of the season with 25:10 left in the first half to give Alton a 2-0 lead.
“He did good,” Skylar Funk said. “He put the ball away and we needed that.”
Skylar Funk and Paulda are part of a large senior class. Alton has 20 seniors on its roster, nine of them started on Tuesday.
“It’s insane,” Skylar Funk said. “I don’t understand it. Our two juniors are very good and our whole squad is pretty good and very physical.”
Alex Moore scored the Warriors’ lone goal with 27:24 left. It was his first goal of the season.
“Alex has been moved around the last couple of games because we’ve struggled to get goals,” Jackson said. “He’s usually a starter in the right back position and he has played there since his sophomore year as a varsity starter. He’s a tough nosed defender and he’s smart. Technically, he can hang. He’s aggressive enough up top and he makes good runs.”
Funk applauded the Warriors’ effort.
“They’re a good team,” the first-year Alton coach said. “They posted some good results this year. They came at us, especially after they scored that goal. We weren’t marked up and they snuck one on us and they got a little fire under their belt.”
The Warriors play CBC on Thursday at Gene Baker Field. Granite City has matches against Althoff and Gibault next week.