BELLEVILLE — Belleville West already has taken a hit with a season-ending injury to senior Sam Bibee, but coach Jason Mathenia still likes the Maroons' chances to make an impact.
Bibee, a midfielder who has signed with Truman State, recently suffered a torn right ACL and MCL and is out for the season.
"It's a big loss for us," said Mathenia, whose team was 12-7-2 overall last season. "She's been a backbone of our program since her sophomore year and has been a starter since her freshman year. She's so solid and she reads the game so well. She would have run that midfield for us.
"Losing her is a blow, but we'll adjust and fill in and rely on some other girls to step up and fill her shoes."
The Maroons return junior forward Sydnee Carroll, who had 14 goals and nine assists last year. Bibee's absence already has meant double- and triple-teams against Carroll, in her third season as a starter. But Mathenia said Carroll is in line for a big season.
"We're looking for her to make an honest attempt to double her numbers this year or at least get into the 20s (in goals)," he said. "In our first game (a 2-1 win over Carbondale), there were at least two girls on her, and at times there were three girls on her.
"I welcome that because if there's that many girls on her, there's at least one, if not two or three, that are open. And I feel we have the ability to find those other players."
Also returning for the Maroons is senior goalie Mackenzie White, another two-year starter who has signed with McKendree.
"She's probably one of the best (keepers) in the area," Mathenia said. "She's made improvement between last year and this year."
The defense in front of White, at least to open the season, will consist of junior Taylor Vollmer and senior Ally Mentzer in the center and freshman Kacie Kinnikin and junior Carly Ratay on the outside.
Mathenia said Kinniken, who along with freshman Jamie Adams scored a goal against Carbondale, is a versatile performer who probably will shift to midfield once the Maroons find another capable defender.
Senior Kelli Kinniken, Kacie's sister, will start at center midfield with senior Ellie Hass. Senior Brittany Gallego and junior Carli Tastad at outside mids, with Carroll and sophomore Amelia Coyne on the front line.
"I feel (scoring) is going to be one of our strengths," Mathenia said. "The backfield is kind of new, but they don't lack experience. They've all got an idea what to do. It's just getting them in tune with one another."
Kelli Kinniken and Mentzer have signed with Southwestern Illinois, giving the Maroons four college-bound players.
"Kelli and Ally have both improved tremendously since last year," Mathenia said. "They were role players last year. So far, they've earned some starting spots and have done well."
Mathenia has a 23-player roster and expects to use all of them. "We've got a lot of talent coming back," he said. "We have the most depth that I can remember. We've got a lot of quality players, a lot of girls that are going to receive significant time on the field."
The Crusaders were 11-9-1 last season, but were ousted from the playoffs in the first round for the second straight year.
"In all the years I've been coaching at Althoff, it's only happened to us twice, and it's happened the last two years," 10th-year Crusaders coach Juergen Huettner said. "The eight years prior, we won regionals, sectionals, super-sectionals, made three state trips. But the last two years have been trying. Hopefully, we're going to pick it up a little bit this year. We've got a team to do it."
Health will be a key because the Crusaders are not deep. And besides graduation losses, they are trying to replace two players who moved: Payton Seibel to Florida and Mary Grace Lewis to Washington, D.C. Two others decided not to play.
"We'll see how we can hold up injury-wise," Huettner said. "If we stay healthy, hopefully we'll be better off than we were last year."
The Crusaders, who were 11-9-1 last season, are off to a 2-3 start, with two of the losses coming against talented O'Fallon.
The Crusaders' best players are sophomore forward Shannon Maitland and center midfielders Rachel Kaltwasser and Natalie Heitzman, both seniors. Maitland has two of Althoff's four goals; Kaltwasser and Heitzman have one apiece.
Sophomore Anna Hanger, freshman Nicole Jones, junior Mary Jackson and senior Mackenzie Burris are Althoff's top defenders. Defensive midfielders are seniors Savannah Ames --an Eastern Kentucky cross country recruit --and Taylor Sharpsten. Freshman Amanda Kaltwasser or sophomore Halle Ames join Rachel Kaltwasser and Heitzman at center mid.
Senior Kelly Brahmbhatt is the goalie.
Other players are sophomore keeper Emily Lassman, junior forward/midfielder Kylie Sullivan, junior defender/midfielder Abby McPherson and senior midfielder/forward Sarah Bertelsman.
"We want to be in double digits in wins and want to be .500 or better," Huettner said. "And one of our goals is to win the (South Seven) conference."
Former Granite City star and News-Democrat Player of the Year Erika Baptist becomes the Lancers' third coach in three years.
The Lancers, 11-9-2 last year, are inexperienced, and Baptist will spend the early part of the season experimenting with lineups.
Although disappointed with an 0-4 start that has included three 2-1 losses, Baptist said East will keep pushing.
"At the beginning of the year, I told the girls I had two things I have no room for: a bad attitude or work ethic," Baptist said. "So far, I couldn't be prouder to be the Belleville East coach. Each game and each practice, we get better and better.
"But it's tough to lose and see their faces and see their emotion. They work so hard, and they want to see immediate results."
The Lancers, who graduated leading scorer Kayla Delgado, return senior midfielder Montana Sinn and senior midfielder/defender Sydney Tedesco. East has just two other seniors in defender Hanna Schiffhauer and goalie TyLisa Gutierrez, who is injured.
"Sydney's foot skills are phenomenal," Baptist said. "And she's become prominent in the air. I always want them to win 50-50 balls and be fitter than every team. That being said, Sydney has taken on that role."
Junior Kara Brockmeyer is the defensive anchor.
"She's hard-working, a vocal leader," Baptist said. "She's always asking what she can do to be better. She's really stepped up."
Sophomores Alyssa Bartle and Julia Moran also are steady defenders, and Baptist said sophomore Rylan Lopez is a spark in the midfield. Freshman Kara Gunter, a midfielder, also has been impressive. Sophomore Kelly Hull is the starting keeper.
Baptist knows the coaching switches can be tough on players.
"You've got to build rapport with your players. They've got to trust you," she said. "That's the first thing I want to do. I want them to trust me that I have their backs, on and off the field, to make them the best athletes and students they can be."