By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
SPRINGFIELD — There aren’t any surprises when the Pleasant Hill Chicks soccer team (22-2) prepares for the Springfield Catholic Lady Irish (15-6-3).
After all, both teams squared off at last year’s Class 2 sectionals, as the Chicks defeated the Irish in overtime, 4-3.
In 2017, the Irish defeated the Chicks, 5-2, at the quarterfinals to advance to the state semifinals.
So, again, few surprises between the two programs.
The Chicks — from the Kansas City area — once again topped the Irish at Saturday’s Class 2 sectional round at Catholic High School, 2-0.
The Chicks were led by junior catalyst Kyleigh Roe’s two goals — both coming within the first 14 minutes of play.
At the 34:28 mark of the opening half, Roe found the net inside the left post on the header.
Eight minutes later, Roe trickled down the left seam and sent a screamer in the upper left corner of the post — narrowly avoiding the crossbar.
“I just wanted to play for my team, for my seniors,” Roe said. “I think we all played as a team. We found each other’s feet and worked hard.”
While playing to feet and focusing on the touches instead of the big vertical threat is vital, Roe said that variable is what kickstarts the offense.
“It really helps us when we can let the ball do the work and just play through people, instead of just trying to take it by ourselves,” Roe said. “It really conserves our energy.”
The Chicks owned time of possession throughout the postseason matinee, sustaining the offensive attack and putting pressure on the Irish defense.
“We knew how they played and who played where, so we switched up our formations in order to go against that and it really helped us,” Roe said.
The Chicks’ offensive philosophy was simplistic: find the core players and spread out the defense.
“Springfield Catholic — we have been adversaries for years,” Chicks head coach Al Iantorno said. “They are a really good team that has had a really tough schedule. We had to get the ball to our playmakers.”
Those playmakers consist of Roe, senior forward Mackenzie Dimarco, and junior midfielder Jacey Faust.
“We moved the ball really well in the first half, [but] we kind of struggled in the second half,” Iantorno said. “Springfield definitely adjusted to how we came in, so we had to change some things. Ultimately, we got what we wanted. We got two good goals at the beginning of the game and were able to hold them off.”
The Irish defense, after surrendering the deuce to Roe, clamped down — particularly senior goalkeeper Kaitlin Knetzke — who displayed her athletic ability to go horizontal and vertical.
“Their keeper — unreal — kept them in the game,” Iantorno said.
The Chicks set the tone with spreading out the defense and striking from the seams — setting the tempo and pace from the onset.
Keeping the offensive game plan simple was priority one in leaving the Ozarks with the win, Iantorno said.
“It was staying focused and not playing two directs [directions],” Iantorno said. “Just looking to find our playmakers, in the right space, with the ball at the right time.”
The Irish defense packed the interior throughout the second half — throwing off the Chicks a bit in their attacks.
“They took away Mackenzie [Dimarco],” Iantorno said.
Dimarco has 300 goals in her high-school career.
“Their philosophy was just to try to stop her. She is amazing,” Iantorno said. “You have to account for her, and they did. They got good looks as well as frustrate us. Other than the two goals, we didn’t get many looks.”
For the Irish, Knetzke said the second-half performance was more indicative of Lady Irish soccer.
“We just knew we had to,” Knetzke said of the second-half shutout. “Obviously, they have Dimarco, so we knew she was the main output. So, if we could shut her down, possibly we could find a way to get a goal and win. We shut her down, but they got a couple.”
Both goals were perfectly placed, just beyond the arms of Knetzke.
“Yeah, that first one, it was the cross that got headed. That was just miscommunication. That could have been fixed, and that second shot, that was just a great shot,” Knetzke said.