With a large group of seniors, the Granite City Warriors girls' soccer team is setting its sights on improving on the 11-9-2 record from last spring.
“I expect the girls to compete very well,” Granite City coach Kenny Prazma said. “We have 11 seniors, so the girls have a lot of experience. Our schedule is extremely tough.”
The Warriors begin their 2015 season at 11 a.m. Saturday with a match against Naperville Central at Belleville West High School. Coached by Ed Watson, Naperville Central has won seven regional championships and placed second in the state tournament in 1994 and 1995.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Prazma said. “If you’ve got to see where your team is at early, it’s definitely the opportunity that you can see where you’re at real quick.”
Naperville Central will have played three matches before its contest with the Warriors on Saturday. The Redhawks will play at Belleville West on Friday.
“I know (Belleville West coach) Jason Mathenia scheduled a game with them and Naperville Central wanted to schedule another game, so Jason, being a Granite City boy, called us and asked us if we wanted to play them,” Prazma said. “I don’t like turning down games where we get an opportunity to play somebody like Naperville Central.”
Granite City plays Triad on March 25 at GCS Stadium in Sauget. The Warriors will play St. Louis area powerhouses Lafayette, Nerinx Hall and Cor Jesu in the St. Joseph’s Academy Tournament in April and will compete in a tournament in Iowa in May.
“I try to make the schedule as tough as possible to prepare us for regionals and sectionals because our conference is so tough,” Prazma said. “That’s what makes our schedule one of the toughest around because of the fact that our conference has Edwardsville, Collinsville, Belleville East, Belleville West, O’Fallon and Alton. I’m not sure there’s a tougher conference around here as far as seven strong teams like we have. It keeps getting tougher and tougher.”
The Warriors begin their Southwestern Conference season on April 7 against O’Fallon on the road.
Ashleigh Briggs, Jordyn Cook, Paige Faulkner, Anna Hagnauer, Gabbie Hartin, Melanie Joyce, Lindsay Levault, Mabry Lewis, Kaylie Moss, Kendell Paterson, Samantha Penrod and Leann Smith make up the Warriors’ senior class. Briggs, Cook, Moss and Smith share team captain duties.
“I’m very pleased because this group has been very much a pleasure,” Prazma said. “They were my first group of freshmen when they came in as I became head coach. They’ve been a delight to be around and they work extremely hard. They come to practice every day to work hard and to get better and to help each other out. They’re a very close knit group, which is hard to find, especially with them fighting for spots on the soccer field. I very much enjoyed being around them and I look forward to this year even more because of this group.”
Sophomores Lexi Grote, Kendyl Pritchett, Grace Neidhardt and Hannah Miller also return this spring. Grote earned second-team all-conference honors as a freshman.
“Lexi Grote, Kendyl Pritchett, Grace Neidhardt and Hannah Miller came in and played a lot as freshmen,” Prazma said. “Those girls added a little spark to the team because they’re young and when they stepped on the field, they had that excitement. The speed that they had was a big factor. In this sport, it’s a big weapon when you can have some speed on the field.”
The Warriors also have three juniors – Abbey Mercer, Emily Smith and Shelby Winn. Mercer will share goalkeeping duties with Hartin.
Prazma is in his fourth season as Granite City coach. He took over head coaching duties in 2012, a year after the Warriors won their first state championship.
“I very much enjoyed it,” Prazma said. “My assistant coaches are tremendous. They’re always a great help. The girls are extremely fun to be around. It’s a great atmosphere for me.”
Prazma said his team is determined to return to the state tournament for the first time since 2011. The Warriors were eliminated by Edwardsville in regional tournament play in each of the last three seasons.
“It’s always our goal to get to the state tournament every year,” Prazma said.