The Althoff Crusaders, Third Place finishers in Class 1A in 2018, opened the new season Monday by hosting Class 2A Waterloo, part of a newly upgraded schedule that includes every member of the Southwest Conference this year. The debut was a positive one on the scoreboard, a 2-0 win on goals by Liesl Whitener and Julia O’Neill, a pair of players who scored 33 and 29 goals respectively last year.
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Waterloo, who started five freshmen, came out strong to start the match and came close to scoring in the 11th minute, only to see the shot go off the far upright. It was symbolic of the final result as the Bulldogs showed plenty of good ball movement but were unable to finish. They lost their top two goal scorers with the graduation of Sydney Luedeman and the loss of Sydney Stephens to a back injury. The top-returning scorer is Jr. Paige Kinzinger who will be the engine of their success this year playing as an attacking midfielder. Lacking any seniors on the squad, something I don’t recall seeing in the 15 years I’ve been covering the HS game in Missouri and Illinois, she’ll also be called on to provide the leadership every team needs. She’s joined as a captain with two other juniors, Karleigh Daniels at center back and Ali Scace on the left side of the midfield.
The Bulldogs came out in a 4-5-1 and their midfield looked to be in mid-season form. Paige Kinzinger has a nice range of skills, from ball-winning to distribution. Often the first target on the counter, it was her ability to spread the ball to both Scace on the left and her younger sister Karley on the right that drove much of the attack. She’s given that freedom with sophomore Natalie Gum and freshman Sophie Colson playing behind her in more defensive roles. Gum in particular stood out for me with her 1v1 win skills, dribbling through the defense to create a numbers advantage for her team in the attack. Keep an eye on her. Another sophomore that was critical was Jacey Cotton who was the most athletic player on the pitch Monday. Her closing speed snuffed several opportunities for Althoff and she paired well with Daniels to push the Crusaders wide and reduce their chances for scoring. Whether Waterloo can come close to matching last year’s Super Sectional run will likely be determined by their ability to score.
Despite those strengths, it was Althoff that got the win. They didn’t get a shot on goal until the 16th minute but they were very opportunistic. The first goal, scored by Whitener, was also started by Whitener. While starting at center back, Coach Huettner moved her up top midway through the first half and it paid dividends almost immediately. Coming back into the center circle to collect a pass, she sent a through ball for Kyleigh Hebel. The initial play was defended well by Megan O’Donnell who sent a back pass to her keeper, freshman Ella Bockhorn. Hebel did a good job of denying a return ball to O’Donnell. Some hesitation in choosing another option led to an effort that Whitener intercepted just outside the box as she followed the play. One touch and a hard shot to the far side changed the complexion of the game.
Althoff has a good mix of seniors – Annie Pusa in goal along with central midfielders Emelia O’Neill and Andersyn Foster as well as Kyra Humbert at right back – to go with three juniors in Whitener, center back Mary Wessel and left back Abby Lanter. Pusa was praised by Coach Huettner prior to the start of the game, noting her captains armband was a function of the leadership she showed in three years of varsity action that usually saw her backing up Rachel Monken who graduated in 2018. Pusa showed confidence and poise as she handled the action in the box and she was backstopped by her defenders, including a goal line clearance by Lanter late in the second half on a cross by Waterloo as they pushed to hard. Humbert made a key play leading to the second goal when she snuffed a possible counter by moving up quickly on the right touch line to win a 50/50 ball that many players would have blanched at attempting. The ball fell to sophomore Julia O’Neill and with a couple of touches looked set to launch a cross into the box. It was a shot that surprised the Waterloo defense as well as me, sliding into the far side netting for the final margin.
Two freshman starters in Issy Wendler on the wing and Regan Moody at defensive midfielder and later center back as Whitener moved up, were given significant responsibilities and showed they are prepared for varsity minutes. They were joined later by Natalie Cohn who played significant minutes in the second half up top and showed technical skills and savvy beyond the normal freshman, helping improve the overall attack for the Crusaders.
We finish our season with a win!!!! 3rd place at state!!! pic.twitter.com/OIXH7oazto
— Althoff Catholic Girls Soccer (@soccerachsgirls) May 26, 2018