Triad is back in the Class 2A girls state soccer tournament for the first time in six years, and the Knights would be happy to repeat their performance from 2011.
The Knights won the tournament that year under former coach Mike Villa as the metro-east swept the competition with Alton Marquette earning the Class 1A title and Granite City bringing home the top prize in Class 3A.
Matt Bettlach is in his fourth year as Triad’s coach and will get his first taste of the state tournament when the Knights (20-6) tackle the Burlington Central Rockets (24-2-2) in the semifinals at 1 p.m. Friday at North Central College in Naperville.
Bettlach, whose team won the Mississippi Valley Conference with a 10-0 record, said the teams have a few things in common.
“It sounds like they’re a lot like us,” Bettlach said. “They have a strong hold on their conference, and they play a really tough outside-the-conference schedule to keep their team competitive. They look to make a deep run in the playoffs. It should be interesting to see how this game plays out.”
Both teams have plenty of offensive firepower. Triad’s attack features sophomore Katie Rogers (14 goals), senior Meaghan Smith (12 goals, 11 assists), senior Sam Bassler (10 goals, four assists), sophomore Jordyn Besserman (nine goals, two assists) and junior Jody Ellis (seven goals, five assists).
Senior Morgan Bohnenstiehl, junior Maddie Keller and sophomore Sydney Beach lead the defense in front of junior goalie Mercedes King, who has 16 shutouts.
“We’re a team whose starting 11 is very good,” Bettlach said. “Every girl on the roster can play. We’re deep, so we can sub (freely). That’s a luxury for us to be able to sub and not really lose a step when we do. Every girl can come out and contribute.”
The Rockets, who play in the Kishwaukee River Conference, have four top-notch scorers in junior Megan Majewski (21 goals, 18 assists), junior Jordan King (20 goals, 14 assists), senior Anna McMahon (19 goals, 24 assists), freshman Zoey Kolhoff (15 goals, four assists) and sophomore Kyrsten Pellikan (15 goals, four assists). King is a Miami University (Ohio) recruit.
Junior Erin Rafferty has 11 solo shutouts and has shared six more with senior Abbi Ciganek.
“It’s going to be a tough game, from everything I’m hearing,” Bettlach said. “I had a chance to speak with the Peoria Notre Dame coach (Ben Ralph), and he said they’re just very solid all-around. They’ve got three or four players who are very good. They’re fast, physical and try to dictate the play and not let you get comfortable. They’re a possession-style team.
“We’ve got a good squad, too. Hopefully, we can just go up and show what we can do. If we play our game for 80 minutes, we’ll be fine. With our defense, we’ll have to go in shutdown mode. We have the girls that can do that.”
The Rockets defeated Peoria Notre Dame 2-0 in the super-sectional in DeKalb on goals by McMahon and junior Elizabeth Gousios.
Defensively, Triad and Burlington Central have each allowed just 12 goals.
Triad overcame defending Class 2A state champion Rochester 3-0 in the Chatham Glenwood sectional semifinals, then outscored longtime nemesis Chatham Glenwood 4-3 in penalty kicks to earn a 1-0 win in the sectional final.
The Knights nipped Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin 1-0 in the super-sectional Tuesday in Rochester.
“The last four years, we’ve had some pretty strong teams. We were always kind of knocking on the door,” Bettlach said. “We only lost two starters (from last year). We knew with the girls we had coming back, if we worked hard and focused on what we could do, we would have a chance to be where we are.”
Triad has four seniors headed for college programs in Smith (Illinois-Chicago), Bassler (Columbia College), Bohnenstiehl (Baker University) and Erynn Little (Missouri-St. Louis). Beach has committed to Saint Louis University.