Coach Juergen Huettner likes the vibe he’s getting from his Althoff High girls soccer team.
The Crusaders, who are off to a 2-1 start with a second-place finish in the Metro Cup Tournament’s Nike Bracket, are poised to improve on their 10-9-2 record of last year.
“What I saw the first three games, the way we played, it was the best since 2011,” said Huettner, whose team that season was 18-6-1. “It was very refreshing to watch how they played. I think this is going to be a team we can have a lot of fun with.”
Althoff opened the season with a 6-0 triumph over Wesclin last Tuesday. It was the 200th career win for Huettner, in his 13th year as coach. The Crusaders followed with a 2-0 win over O’Fallon on Thursday before falling to Alton 3-2 on Saturday.
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“It was a good three games,” Huettner said. “We found out a lot about our team. I used (the tournament) for experimenting a little bit. We played Wesclin one way and changed a few things around against O’Fallon. Then we used some different players off the bench (against Alton) to see where they could fit and what makes a difference.”
Huettner also said the Crusaders have as much chemistry as they had in 2010 when they earned the Class 2A state championship and finished 27-0.
“This team is not just led by one player. It’s led by a group,” said Huettner, who relied heavily last year on graduated seniors Shannon Maitland and Anna Hanger. “We built the team around them. They were key components of the team for four years. This year, we have a team that’s by committee.”
Seniors Amanda Kaltwasser, a forward, and Nicole Jones, a defender, are the Crusaders’ captains. Kaltwasser, who has signed with Division II Maryville University, was Althoff’s leading scorer last season with 18 goals and five assists.
Kaltwasser will be joined on the front line by juniors Jessica Hoffman (13 goals, four assists) and Amanda Jackson, who during her high-school career already has underwent two compartment syndrome surgeries and missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Kaltwasser and Hoffman already have two goals apiece.
Huettner said he will try to rest Jackson when possible, particularly early in the season. Jackson played in the first two games, then watched from the sidelines as Althoff battled Alton.
“She’s been practicing hard and training,” Huettner said. “A lot of kids look up to her because she never sits back in practice. She never says, ‘I can’t do this,’ or ‘I don’t want to do that.’ We’ve just got to bring her back slowly. She wants to be more a part of it than she’s been the first three games, but she fits our team well. The kids are amazed by her work ethic.”
Althoff’s midfield consists of freshman Liesl Whitener, sophomores Emelia O’Neill and Andersyn Foster, junior Sophie Monken and senior Jackie Minor. Monken has undergone two surgeries for compartment syndrome and is expected to return to action by the end of March.
“Our offense is still young with a couple of seasoned players in there – a couple of juniors and a senior. We’re pretty young offensively,” Huettner said.
Whitener and O’Neill lead Althoff with three goals apiece. O’Neill had three goals all of last season.
Huettner said Whitener is a player to watch.
“I think she’s going to do some very impressive things for us during her high school career,” Juettner said. “She’s a special player.”
On defense, Althoff will be led by Jones, junior Lindey O’Dell, sophomore Kyra Humbert and freshman Abby Lanter. Junior Rachel Monken, who had four shutouts last year, returns in goal.
Other seniors expected to see action are defender Cheyenne Decker and midfielders Emily DeHoyos and Lizzie Michael.
Althoff returns to action with a rematch against O’Fallon on Wednesday at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville.