By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Expectations are again high at Springfield Catholic. It’s easy to see why.
The Irish return five all-state selections from a squad that finished runner-up in Class 2 last year.
“This will be one of the most experienced teams we have had at Catholic since 2011,” said Irish coach Ben Timson.
Seniors Brinn Cooper, Mackenzie Serrano and Ellie Palmer lead the way for a loaded Irish squad.
“Expectations are always high at Catholic and our goal every year is to reach the state finals and compete for a championship,” Timson said. “That said, we are careful to avoid ‘state or bust’ expectations because so much can happen over the course of the season.
Cooper had 22 goals and seven assists last season, earning a spot on the Class 2 first team all-state list for the second straight season.
“Brinn’s a strong midfielder with excellent finishing and distributing skills,” Timson said.
Serrano, second team all-state last year, is a strong central defender who can ignite an attack when needed.
Palmer enters her fourth year as Catholic’s starting goalkeeper. She had 139 saves and 11 shutouts last season.
Serrano, Palmer and Cooper have all signed to play at Drury University in Springfield.
“Injuries always play a big part in the success of a team and the game of soccer during the playoffs is always on a razor’s edge and can go either way with a lucky or unlucky bounce of the ball.”
Injury has unfortunately already hit the Lady Irish as they lost senior MF/F Peyton McNabb to a leg injury in the jamboree. She will miss the entire season after scoring 13 goals with 14 assists on her way to a second-team all-state selection as a junior. McNabb is signed with Northern Michigan.
Two more all-state players return for Catholic: junior Kaleia Huttenlocher (MF/F) and junior Kaitlin Knetzke (D).
“Kaitlin’s an excellent central defender and the best athlete on the team,” Timson said. “Kaleia has excellent ball skills and finishing ability. She can play equally as well at midfield or forward.”
The Irish return several other players with significant varsity experience: Emma Lucas, Ashley Andrews and Harper Collins, as well as Isabella and Sophia Sanders, Olivia Wilson, Thania Munoz, Maggie Buer and Emily Pazera.
“Our biggest strength this season will likely be our maturity,” Timson said. “We have a large group of seniors and juniors that have been in the program for several years. The maturity they have gained from many grinding battles with Class 3 and 4 teams, as well as high-pressure playoff games will serve them well as we go through the season.”
Last season ended heartbreak for Catholic. The Irish fell 2-1 to Cape Girardeau Notre Dame in the Class 2 state title game.
Catholic scored the game’s first game, but Notre Dame tied the match about seven minutes later, then scored the game-winner 11 minutes into overtime.
The Irish only graduated one of their six all-state selections, but she was a good one – Emma Skornia.
She was named Class 2 Co-Offensive Player of the Year and led Catholic with 27 goals and 19 assists. Skornia now plays for Missouri State.
Catholic also graduated Rachel Miller, a two-year starter at outside back.
The Irish will add several promising freshmen to their program: Gabby Giovanni, Emily Gleason, Mia Page, Taylor Rae Russell, Hayley Singleton and Kaitlyn Stickney. All six have club experience.
Catholic still has room to improve. The Irish allowed 36 goals last year, the third-highest total in their 20-year history.
“One thing we are going to have to do better this season than last is keep the ball out of our net,” Timson said.