GRANITE CITY — For the last six years, the Marquette Catholic Explorers have been a Class 1A girls' soccer state powerhouse.
The Explorers have won six straight regional titles, captured five sectional championships and placed at the state tournament three times, including a first-place finish in 2011.
"It's huge to get good players to come to your program," Marquette coach Steve Mitchell said. "We train real hard during the season, so it shows at the end."
Marquette enjoyed another solid regular season this spring. After finishing in a 1-1 tie with the Granite City Warriors under rainy conditions on Saturday at Gene Baker Field, the Explorers ended their regular season at 11-5-3. They earned the No. 1 seed in the Class 1A Civic Memorial Regional and will play East Alton-Wood River in a semifinal match on Tuesday.
"A 1-1 tie isn't a bad mark against them," Granite City coach Kenny Prazma said. "They're a good team. They're in the top 10 in the small-schools (poll). They come to play and a 1-1 tie isn't a bad result. I would have liked to see a win, but you've got to go with what you have."
The Warriors are guaranteed to finish with a .500 season. With the tie against the Explorers, Granite City ended its regular season at 9-8-2 and will be back in action on May 19 against Alton in a semifinal match of the Class 3A Edwardsville Regional.
"We're playing at Edwardsville on turf," Prazma said. "It will make a little bit of a difference because when we were playing Alton at Gordon Moore (in the last meeting on Thursday), the grass was a little tall and kind of kept our speed at bay a little bit. Hopefully, we can come out with a win there and control the ball a little bit more against them."
The Warriors came into Saturday with a five-match winning streak. They beat Highland on Senior Night on April 29, won their division at the Tournament of Champions in Burlington, Iowa, last week and ended their Southwestern Conference season on Thursday with a 1-0 win over Alton.
"We all realize that it's time for playoffs and we needed to step it up a bit going into playoffs," Granite City senior Ashleigh Briggs said.
The Explorers bounced back from a 1-0 loss to Belleville East on Monday. Marquette is 2-1-3 against Southwestern Conference schools.
Mitchell said playing against Southwestern Conference teams has helped prepare his team for the postseason.
"We put the big schools on our schedule for a reason," Mitchell said. "We can easily play some of the 1A teams and not play any 3A teams."
Both goals in Saturday's match came in the second half. The Warriors took a 1-0 lead after Briggs' corner kick was deflected off a Marquette player and went into the goal with 16 minutes, 27 seconds left. A minute later, Alton Marquette junior Lauren Schmickley scored her sixth goal of the season to tie the match.
"I felt like after we scored, we kind of stop playing there a little bit and they came back and scored," said Briggs, whose team finished 2-3-1 at home this season. "It's unfortunate, but it happens. I felt like we started the game off slow and we realized in the second half that we need to pick it up a bit and we did. Unfortunately, they came back and scored right away."
Warriors win tournament title at Iowa
The Warriors brought home a Tournament of Champions title last week.
Granite City won the Iowa Economic Development division of the 42-team tournament in Burlington, Iowa, by going 3-0, including a 2-0 win over Dunlap in the championship match on May 2.
“It felt great,” Briggs said. “It was good going in and winning. We knew we could, but we knew we were going to have some tough teams and we came out and we played well.”
Teams from Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and Kansas competed in the Tournament of Champions. The tournament was split into six divisions. Besides Granite City, Collinsville, Belleville East and Belleville West were the other Metro-East area teams that participated.
The Warriors started their tournament play on May 1 with a 3-2 overtime win over West Des Moines Valley in the first round. Senior Paige Faulkner scored the game-winning goal in the overtime period.
The next day, Granite City beat Sussex (Wis.) Hamilton 2-0 in the semifinals to advance to the championship match against Dunlap.
“In the next two games, the girls really played well,” Prazma said. “They played 80 minutes in the second game and 80 minutes in the third game. They didn't hold back.”
Briggs and sophomores Lexi Grote and Grace Neidhardt scored two goals apiece in the tournament.