By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Regardless of class, it’s hard to find a high school girls’ soccer program in southwest Missouri more successful than the Springfield Catholic Lady Irish.
Over the last 10 years, Springfield Catholic has won 9 of 10 district championships. And, during that same 10 years, the Lady Irish made eight trips to the state final four (competing in Class 1 or Class 2), including back-to-back Class 1 titles in 2010 and 2011. Most recently, Catholic finished second in Class 2 in 2017.
The Lady Irish were just one win shy of another trip to the final four last season before falling 4-3 in overtime to Pleasant Hill in the quarterfinals.
For this season, as for every season before, expectations are high – despite losing four all-state players from last year’s team to graduation.
“The 2018 class was a special group at Catholic, who had a lot of success during their high school careers,” said Springfield Catholic head coach Ben Timson, who has been the only coach in the Lady Irish’s 22-year history. “We will miss a lot from them on the field, but the biggest thing is likely the leadership they brought to the team.”
Gone from last year’s 20-7-1 Class 2 District 10- and sectional-championship team are Brinn Cooper, Mackenzie Serrano, Peyton McNabb and Ellie Palmer.
Cooper scored 30 goals, added 10 assists, was a Class 2 All-State selection and the Class 2 All-Region 3 Co-Player of the Year, as well as being named to the All-Central Ozark Conference Small team. She is playing soccer at Drury University.
Serrano, a defender, scored 5 goals and recorded 10 assists. She was an all-state second-team, all-region and All-COC pick. She also is playing soccer at Drury.
Palmer, a goalkeeper, recorded 119 saves and had 11 shutouts to go with her 1.19 goals-against average. She was named to the all-state first team and was co-goalkeeper of the year, as well as Class 2 Region 3 Goalkeeper of the Year. She also was an All-COC pick.
McNabb, who was an all-state player her freshman and junior seasons, was injured during last year’s jamboree and did not play her senior season. She is playing college soccer at Northern Michigan University.
Returning this season for the Lady Irish are two more all-state players – seniors Kaitlin Knetzke and Kaleia Huttenlocher.
Knetzke earned Class 2 All-State first-team honors last season as a defender, after being named to the second team at that position in 2017. She also was named the Class 2 Region 3 Defender of the Year and was an All-COC selection.
This season, the Lady Irish will count on Knetzke in goal – a position she has played her entire club career.
“Kaitlin is one of the most athletic players we have ever had at Catholic and will be in her natural position as a senior for the first time in her (high school) career,” Timson said. “She has played as a defender in her first three seasons and was an all-state player for the past two seasons at that position.
“Moving her out of the defensive line will leave a hole that we will have to fill, but her strength in the goal will diminish that loss significantly.”
Olivia Wilson (senior), Harper Collins (junior) and Taylor Rae Russell (sophomore) all return to Catholic’s defense and will be key to the Lady Irish’s success in front of Kneztke.
Timson says that while defense will be Catholic’s strength, the Lady Irish will need to find goal scorers.
Catholic’s leading returning scorer is Huttenlocher, who earned all-state second-team honors the last two seasons and was named to the Class 2 All-Region 3 and All-COC team. Last season, she scored 12 goals and led the team with 25 assists.
Senior Ashley Andrews (7 goals, 4 assists) will be counted on to control the center of the field, and sophomore Kaitlyn Stickney (5 goals, 4 assists) will be looked upon to provide an attacking presence.
“We have several who are capable (of scoring), including Huttenlocher, Andrews and Stickney, but this season, for the first time in their careers, we will need them to lead the team in scoring – a responsibility they have not had to carry in the past,” Timson said. “I am confident they will rise to the occasion.”
Catholic will look to continue its program success this season. Timson and the program are just 10 wins shy of 400 (390-141-16). And, after winning the Central Ozark Conference Small School Championship (3-0) last year, the Lady Irish join the Big 8 Conference this season.
They open the regular season in the Rolla Tournament on March 15.
“Expectations are always high at Catholic and this year will be no different,” Timson said. “We are entering our first season in the Big 8 Conference and our goal will be to win the conference and our district.
“This is always a challenge for us each year, especially as time goes on and the overall strength of girls’ high school soccer increases.”