Photo by Eric Stauffer
Alton’s Sydney Schmidt battles with Marquette’s Bailey Hartrich March 23 at Gordon Moore Park. The Redbirds and Explorers ended in a 1-1 tie. Alton is off to a torrid start, already passing its win total from last season.
The Alton Redbird girls’ soccer team has experienced a rebirth this season.
Last year, Alton managed just four wins but this season the Redbirds owned a 6-0-2 record through Tuesday. The only semi-blemishes on their record were a 1-1 tie March 23 against rival Marquette Catholic and a 1-1 tie vs. O’Fallon on Tuesday.
“We started out this season trying to get to the four-win mark as soon as possible,” first-year Alton head coach Jeff Hayes said. “We have some girls that are playing a lot this year that sat the bench last year. I wasn’t expecting to start off this well, but I thought we could improve over last year. You have to go out there and play at the varsity level. In early games we proved we could play well.”
The Redbirds are experiencing a youth movement this year. Freshman midfielder Alaina Nasello led the team in scoring with five goals through Tuesday. Sophomore midfielder Brianna Hatfield has four goals, sophomore forward Katie Kercher has three goals and junior defenseman Lexi Schrimpf has three. Seniors Sydney Mossman and Lindsay Kistenmacher and sophomore Bryley Snyders have also earned valuable playing time in the midfield.
Hayes acknowledged Nasello’s athleticism, saying “she has been a pleasant surprise.” He also said Hatfield knows how to “drive the goal” when under pressure.
“Everything we do well goes through the midfield,” Hayes said. “These girls haven’t played that much. Plus, we’re playing a different system than we played the last few years. I heard these girls talking early in the season how happy they are to play with each other.”
Alton’s highest-scoring game came March 19 when it defeated Columbia 4-1. The Redbirds opened up the 2016 campaign with a 2-1 win over Freeburg and went on to defeat Althoff 2-1 March 16 and Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin 2-1 March 17. Alton defeated Freeburg again 2-1 March 22 and Springfield High 3-2 March 26.
The win over Columbia secured the Nike Bracket, or silver bracket, title at the Metro Cup in Columbia. The Birds went 3-0 in Metro Cup action in ‘16 after going 0-3 in the tournament last season.
With such low-scoring games, the Redbirds have proven their defensive competence. Junior goalkeeper Julia-May Campbell has compiled a 5-0 record, recorded one shutout and has 21 saves while sophomore goalkeeper Michaela Lucas has a 1-0-1 record and has recorded 10 saves.
“We’re in a great position as far as keepers are concerned,” Hayes said. “We have two girls we can put out there; they’ve done a great job. Everyone on the team is confident in them.”
Also on the defensive side, sophomore Taylor Imming, senior Annie Evans, freshman Calista Cox and junior Lindsey Grossheim are playing in the backfield.
“We’ve relied a lot on Annie,” Hayes said. “And I’m surprised at how well Calista is playing. She’s aggressive, fast and reads really well.”
Alton opened Southwestern Conference action at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Piasa Motor Fuels Field behind AHS against O’Fallon with a 1-1 tie. All varsity home games at AHS this season will be at 4:30 p.m. because the lights at the new field have not been installed yet.
In the conference, all affiliated schools play each other once. The Redbirds are scheduled to play two conference schools in April within a few days of each other — Belleville East at 4:30 p.m. April 11 at home and Collinsville at home at 4:30 p.m. April 14. Alton will face off against Granite City, Belleville East and Edwardsville in May.
“Last year, we didn’t win a game in conference,” Hayes said. “But this year I would expect us to do better.”
The Redbirds battled Althoff at home Thursday following press time and are competing in the Parkway Central Showcase in Troy, Mo., at the Lou Fusz Soccer Complex on Friday and Saturday.
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