Collinsville High's girls soccer team is back on top this season despite a falloff in offensive production.
The Kahoks graduated Belleville News-Democrat Player of the Year Kat Roe (23 goals, 12 assists) and Alyssa Reiniger (14 goals, 11 assists), but didn't miss a step in winning the Southwestern Conference championship.
They've done it by scoring two fewer goals than Roe scored by herself last season. Collinsville clinched the conference title with a 2-1 win last week over Granite City in a game played in a deluge of rain in Granite City.
"Our whole conference is great," said Kahoks coach Clay Smith, whose team was 8-3-1 overall and 6-0 in the league heading into a tournament Friday and Saturday in Iowa. "It is a big accomplishment to win conference. A lot of schools don't think much of it, but I always have in my coaching career.
"I think our conference is one of the best in Southern Illinois. That's always a goal of ours, to win conference. That's our first goal, and then on to the regional. That gains a lot of momentum for your girls and gives them a lot of confidence. You have to go and do it again in regional play, but that's a big step in your season."
Without dynamic scorers like Roe and Reiniger, every SWC game has been a battle. But the Kahoks' defense has dug in and the offense has provided just enough.
Four of Collinsville's six league wins have been by one goal: 1-0 over Edwardsville, 1-0 over Belleville West, 2-1 over O'Fallon and 2-1 over Granite City. The Kahoks defeated Belleville East 2-0 and Alton 5-1.
"Going into this year, I don't know if we were really favored to win it after we lost all that (talent) from last year," Smith said. "What I love about the conference this year is it's really young. There's a lot of young players playing for all the teams. It's great to see, because that's how it's going to be in the conference for a couple of years."
Smith knew scoring wasn't going to be the Kahoks forte this season, so he hasn't been surprised by the number of one-goal games.
"We have a lot of new faces out there," Smith said. "So I credit my defense a lot. Our back four have done a tremendous job of letting us hold on to those one-goal leads. Every time after the game, I always say to the girls, 'I wish you would have scored one more for me and make my job a little easier.'
"But hats off to my back four. They've done a tremendous job of keeping that ball our of our defensive third and doing well defending against some of these tough schools and big-time offensive threats we play against."
Collinsville's back four consists of senior Matty Merlak, freshman Dayle McEwen, junior Tori Ford and sophomore Caydren Jones. Senior Holly Bluemner is the returning goalie.
"We have three new defenders back there," said Smith, referring to McEwen, Ford and Jones. "They've done a great job of coming together and being one unit. They do a fantastic job, along with Holly behind them, of keeping everything organized and making sure we're marked tight."
Collinsville's leading scorer is junior Sophie Sharos with nine goals and four assists. Freshman Emily Holten has five goals and two assists and Andrea Frerker has four assists, which are tied with Sharos for the team lead.
"Sophie has done a great job this year," Smith said. "She's truly a leader. She's non-stop. She's always helping the other girls. I have her in the midfield with Andrea Frerker, who is a special, special athlete. They work so well together and Sophie's done a great job of mentoring her and helping her along the way."
Junior Mikayla McCarthy, who had 20 goals last season, has been limited to one. Smith said opponents regularly double- and triple-team McCarthy.
"She draws so much attention from the opposing team. That's what's making the rest of our team so successful," Smith said. "She's calling it a slump. I wouldn't call it that. Other teams are defending her well. She's just got to figure out a way to put the ball in the back of the net."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.