Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn
The Marquette Catholic girls’ soccer program poses with the Class 1A regional, sectional and super-sectional plaques they won this season. They capped the season with a 1A third-place finish at state. A short ceremony to celebrate the great season was conducted at MCHS on Sunday to honor the team.
The Marquette Catholic Explorers girls’ soccer team finished the year on a high note with a third-place finish in the Class 1A state girls’ soccer tournament.
However, the season didn’t start as gloriously as it ended. The Explorers started the 2016 campaign with an 0-3 mark. All of the losses were compiled in the Metro Cup, as Marquette suffered a 2-1 loss to Triad on March 15, a 4-1 loss to Springfield on March 16 and a 2-1 loss to O’Fallon on March 18. Then the Explorers rebounded with a 1-1 tie against Alton on March 23 and a 1-0 win over Mater Dei on March 24. However, Explorers coach Steve Mitchell said the schedule was designed for a postseason run.
“We put that tournament on the schedule two years ago after the first trip to state,” Mitchell said. “We switched tournaments because we knew it was a tough tournament. For us to start the season with that tournament, we know it’s a tough tournament and we always get put in the top bracket. Every year we know our first games are going to be Edwardsville, Triad, Rochester or Springfield.
“This sets the tone, and it sets it early. But unfortunately, a couple of losses got us started on the wrong foot. But the kids battled. We have so many different personalities, sometimes it takes them a while to click.”
Marquette held a reception for the third-place state finishers on Sunday at the high school that was attended by the players, coaching staff and fans.
Principal Mike Slaughter held a pack of state medals claimed by the school in the last decade and talked of the honor the 2016 edition of the Marquette Explorers’ soccer team brought to the school and its athletic programs. School board President David Bartosiak delivered a speech that addressed the same themes.
“It took a while for this group to click, because they were a younger group,” Mitchell said. “About three-fourths of the way through the season we started to turn things around; we did some bonding things. The kids started to gel together. In the end, we were a pretty tough team.”
The Explorers finished the season with a 15-10-3 record. They started their string of postseason success on May 10 with a 9-0 win over Metro East Lutheran in the 1A Marquette Regional semifinals. They kept rolling with a 2-1 win over Roxana in the regional championship game on May 13.
Marquette utilized its penalty kick game in postseason play. It defeated Waterloo Gibault 1-0 in penalty kicks on March 18 in the Belleville Althoff Sectional semifinals and earned a sectional championship with a 2-1 win over Columbia in penalty kick play. The Explorers defeated Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin 1-0 in the Springfield (University of Illinois) Super-Sectional in penalty kicks to win a super-sectional title and earn a trip to the state tournament.
“We’ve been in that situation before,” Mitchell said. “At the end of every practice, we let the kids take penalty kicks. It gives us coaches the chance to see if they can take a penalty kick when they’re exhausted and they’re tired. We take notes, but at the same time they have fun. They get into a rhythm and it paid off. A lot of teams don’t practice penalty kicks.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Fischer played a role in the Explorers’ postseason penalty kick play and throughout the season. She finished the year with a 15-10-3 record and recorded nine shutouts and 96 saves.
“To have a goaltender that’s a sophomore and not have to worry about that for two years, it’s amazing and it makes my job easy,” Mitchell said. “That kid is tremendous; she conducts herself on the field like a senior or even a freshman in college.”
Fischer said she “was very proud of what the team had accomplished” and also mentioned the adversity Mitchell spoke of. She also said she doesn’t enjoy playing through penalty kicks.
“I’m sick of them,” Fischer said. “You have to focus on what’s going on and what’s the best thing to do at the time.”
The Explorers lost the first game of the Class 1A state tournament in Naperville, as West Chicago (Wheaton Academy) defeated them 3-0 on May 27. Then they defeated Williamsville 4-2 on May 28 in the third-place game. Junior forward Annabelle Copeland turned in a hat trick in the win over Williamsville. She finished the season leading Catholic’s offense with 17 goals and 8 assists.
“The loss (Wheaton Academy) was a real motivation,” Copeland said of the three goals in the third-place game. “Plus, we hadn’t scored many goals in the games leading up to that one.”
Mitchell said his team didn’t play well in the first game at state.
“There’s a sigh of relief for some kids when they win the super-sectionals,” he said. “It’s like ‘oh man, we made it.’ It’s like they take their foot off of the gas pedal; their goal was to get there. They change mode and change speed. I think that’s what happened to us in the semifinals; we were so happy to be there and we just didn’t play well. But the kids came back and battled and took third; you can’t ask for anything more.”
The Explorers lose five seniors to graduation this season: Bailey Hartrich, Mallory Maag, Mallory Roche, Adriana Schindler and Lauren Schmickley. Hartrich and Schindler both started this season. Schmickley also started, but she broke her ankle in the first contest of the year against Triad and returned toward the end of the season in the super-sectional. All seniors dedicated four years to the program. Mitchell started four years ago.
“Those kids are very special to me; they’ve been here through the whole thing,” Mitchell said. “They know the system and what I expect. It’s going to be sad to miss them, but you have to let them go sometime.”
Mitchell said he hopes to return to the state tournament next year and claim a state title. The Explorers have compiled an impressive list of postseason accomplishments since the IHSA state soccer series expanded to three classes. They have been entrenched in 1A the whole time.
Marquette finished second in 2009, won a state championship in 2011 and placed third in 2013. Two members of this year’s team — Hartrich and Annie Tassinari — served as ball girls in one of the school’s prior trips to state. Hartrich was a ball girl in 2009 when the Explorers placed second. She was 10 at the time. Hartrich also played on the 2013 team.
“My older sister Kelcie (Hartrich) was on that team,” Bailey Hartrich said. “She played and I went to all of her games. I got to be a ball girl in the state tournament. I always wanted to get back.”
Tassinari also worked as a ball girl in 2009, following her older sister Sarah to state. This year marks the first state tournament she played in.
“It was cool when I was younger,” Tassinari said. “It feels more awesome now that we get to experience it.”
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