By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Catholic’s offense had a long-awaited breakout game Monday night.
The defense? Still superb, thanks in part to one of the area’s most versatile athletes.
Catholic wore out an undermanned Willard squad en route to a 5-1 home victory. The Irish got two first-half goals from freshman Taylor Collins then sealed the win with three goals late in the match.
Seniors Kaleia Huttenlocher, Ashley Andrews and Olivia Wilson all scored within a three-minute span in the second half for Catholic.
“We were able to run a lot of players in and out for the whole match,” said Irish coach Ben Timson. “That definitely helped.”
On the other end, senior goalkeeper Kaitlin Knetzke anchored a defense that’s allowed three goals – and recorded eight shutouts – over 11 matches.
The former all-state defender has switched back to her natural (club) position for 2019.
“This is my home,” Knetzke said. “This is where I’m comfortable.”
Knetzke, who’s signed to play at Drury next school year, spent her first three seasons in an Irish uniform at defender.
However, the Irish had a major void in net after all-state goalkeeper Ellie Palmer graduated in 2018.
“With Kaitlin’s ability to play on the field, as athletic as she is, she’s phenomenal as a defender,” Timson said. “It was like, ‘Well, we have Ellie in goal. And Kaitlin can play on the field. We have an all-state defender and an all-state goalkeeper. Why mess with it?’”
“Kaitlin’s been great at goalkeeper, particularly in our wins over Glendale and Ozark. She made multiple, multiple amazing saves.”
Said Knetzke: “Sometimes, I’m eager to just go up and step in the defensive line. But I know I have to protect the net when it comes down to it.”
Entering Monday night, Catholic’s offense had tallied 16 total goals in 10 matches.
But nearly half of that amount came in a 6-0 drubbing of Marshfield on March 21. The Irish had not scored more than two goals in any other match before Monday night.
“We’ve been working a lot in practice on first touch, connecting passes and making runs,” Timson said. “All that stuff. We were able to take advantage of some of that tonight.”
Against a Willard defense missing a starting center back, the Irish exploited the middle of the field.
But it was Collins striking first on a nifty shot from the far right side. Collins, who plays defender on her club team, bent a shot that found its way inside the far post three minutes into the match.
Less than 10 minutes later, she struck again and converted a 1-v-1 off a feed from Sophia Sanders.
“(Collins) is young and still learning to play up top,” Timson said. “Tonight was a real good game for her.”
Willard sophomore Jada Holloman scored in the 30th minute to bring the Tigers (4-2 overall) within 2-1.
Catholic improved to 8-0-3 overall. The Irish graduated three all-state players after last season; they only have six seniors on the varsity roster this year.
“Watching us play, we have a certain fire and drive,” Knetzke said. “Everyone out there wants to win. It’s awesome. I love it.”
Catholic 5, Willard 1
Willard 1 0 — 1
Catholic 2 3 — 5
Catholic (3’) – Taylor Collins
Catholic (12’) – Collins (Sophia Sanders assist)
Willard (30’) – Jada Holloman
Catholic (67’) – Kaleia Huttenlocher (Gabby Giovanni assist)
Catholic (69’) – Ashley Andrews (Giovanni assist)
Catholic (70’) – Olivia Wilson (PK)