BETHALTO — For the 11th straight year the Marquette Catholic Explorers are regional champs.
The Explorers (13-5-3) topped the host Civic Memorial Eagles (10-8-1) 4-0 on Saturday in the Class 1A CM Regional finals to punch their ticket to the Columbia Sectional semifinals at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday vs. Mater Dei. Mater Dei beat Olney (East Richland) 4-0 in the Olney Regional on Friday to earn its date with Marquette.
“It's one game at a time and it's big for the kids. It boosts their morale,” Marquette head coach Steve Mitchell said of the regional crown. “The first 15 minutes (CM) came out hard and I knew they would. They have a great coaching staff and a few great athletes over there. We had to weather the storm so to speak, but we started to play after awhile and I was able to get all the kids in, so that was good. It was a great game.”
A spark came for the Explorers with the return of forward Annabelle Copeland. The sophomore was playing in her first game since suffering a broken nose in a 3-0 win over Gibault on April 28. She even joined the scoring fun with the third goal of the game for Marquette during the opening minute of the second half. She was happy to be back.
“I found out right before the game during warmups,” Copeland said with a smile of when she discovered she'd be playing. “I called my dad and he said, 'Yeah, just be careful. If anything feels funny make sure you come off.' I got a surgery to reset the other side of my nose and they don't want me to pop it back out of place.”
Mitchell was glad to have his talented forward back, and a little earlier than what he initially expected. He thought Copeland would be sidelined until the sectional.
“She's just huge, a great player,” Mitchell said. “She adds another dimension to the game. When she's not in there it's like we're lose something. To have her back not only boosts the team, but as a coach it takes a little pressure off of me as well.”
Marquette climbed onto the scoreboard in the ninth minute of the game when Nicole Grimaud accepted a pass from Rebekah Johnes and flipped it past CM goalie Sam Mann to make it 1-0.
That's the way it would stay until the 28th minute when sophomore Claire Dalton found a ball in a scrum in front of the Eagles' goal following a corner and rifled it into the net to make it 2-0.
CM finally got its first shot on goal in the 35th minute from Morgan Wilson, but it was gobbled up by Marquette goalie Sanorah Eldred. That marked the first shot on goal against the Explorers in the postseason.
The Eagles' first-year head coach Eric Zyung said with Marquette's skill it's just hard to get anything going against them.
“They don't panic. They know when they get it to their sweeper to just go wide, they spread out and they play the wings so well,” Zyung said. “They stay connected and their shape is awesome and if we're ball chasing we're out of position and it makes it easy to move the ball from side to side.”
Copeland said it's a credit to a young back line, which is starting to put it all together.
“Our back line is all new this year and they're all starting to work together,” Copeland said. “We've got Ketoura (Ngwa) and Kali (Segieda) in the center and then some outside backs that have never really played outside back before, but they're starting to get used to it.”
Zyung thought the Eagles came out at the onset with a lot of intensity, which was the plan, but he knew it would be hard to maintain against the talented Explorers. He was happy to see his squad's effort never relinquish though.
“That's exactly what we tried to do in the Roxana game and in this game,” Zyung said. “I said, 'We've got to take the fight to them.' We can't stand back and wait, we've got to go at them and let them know we're not intimidated or scared. If you pressure somebody you can pressure them into mistakes and that's what we were hoping to do. They're just so good on the ball and are good playing wide, good with their touches, they're just a solid team all the way around and they're deep.”
Copeland added to Marquette's tally in the 41st minute, pushing in a goal from in front of the net off a pass from Johnes, her second assist in the game.
“I was just excited,” Copeland said. “I was so ready to play. I'm tired of sitting on the bench and watching the games. I wanted to be in them.”
The Explorers struck for the final time in the 66th minute when Taylor Aguirre deflected a goal off of the goalie Mann that squirted into the net to elevate the lead to 4-0.
The Eagles had their best chance in the 78th minute when freshman Cassie Hall peppered a shot on goal, but it was corralled by Marquette goalie Lauren Fischer.
“With Cassie and some of the others, there is a bright future at CM,” Zyung said. “We have some young players. My one regret this year is I'm going to miss these five seniors. Being a first-year coach they are real receptive and responded really well to me and this team, but we've got a future here at CM.”
The Eagles say goodbye to seniors Julie Bruns, Kaylynn St. Peters, Andra Myers and Kara Wesolowski.
For the Explorers, the season continues with a rematch against a Mater Dei team they beat 2-0 on April 4. Mitchell is expecting a tough test from the Knights.
“Mater Dei's a great team,” Mitchell said. “We played them early and beat them, but that was early. It looks like they've gotten better all year and trust me when I tell you, everybody comes with their A game against Marquette. We hardly ever get a break with anybody playing bad. If anybody plays bad it's usually us, but we'll be ready for them. The kids will be ready. Their attitudes are good and we're clicking on all cylinders and starting to put the ball in the net.”
CLASS 1A CM REGIONAL FINAL
MARQUETTE 4, CM 0
CM 0 0 — 0
Marquette 2 2 — 4
M— Nicole Grimaud (Rebekah Johnes), 9th minute
M— Claire Dalton (unassisted), 28th minute
M— Annabelle Copeland (Johnes), 41st minute
M— Taylor Aguirre, 66th minute
Shots: CM-2, M-18; Corners: CM-1, M-7; Saves: CM-5 (Sam Mann); M-2 (Lauren Fischer, Sanorah Eldred).