Having a roster loaded with underclass players has not been an impediment to winning for the Waterloo girls soccer team.
The Bulldogs have 11 freshmen and sophomores, yet they entered their game Thursday at Mascoutah with a 13-2 record, which included a 4-1 mark in the Mississippi Valley Conference.
“We weren’t sure quite what to expect coming in because we have a lot of freshmen playing this year,” coach Chad Holden said. “We only have one senior and we start four freshmen, three sophomores and three juniors, so it’s a good mix. We weren’t sure about the chemistry, but it’s worked out great since the beginning of the year. They’ve all been playing very well together.
“Sometimes you bring in the young ones and it might take a while before you get things working together. But these girls have put it together very quickly.”
Waterloo has surrendered just eight goals. Five of them came in its only losses: 2-1 to Edwardsville and 3-1 to Triad, which leads the MVC.
Heading into Thursday, the Bulldogs had posted six consecutive shutouts, three of them coming last weekend when they won the Carbondale Tournament.
“Defensively, we’ve done a great job,” said Holden, whose back four consists of junior Sydney Ratz, sophomore Heather Elliott and freshmen Dani Mauer and Sierra Berg. “We’re limiting teams to hardly any shots. Out of all three games we played (in Carbondale), I don’t think there was more than four shots on goal. They’ve been doing a great job of limiting everybody.”
In goal, 6-foot sophomore Kathryn Finnerty has five shutouts, 35 saves and an 0.63 goals-against average. Finnerty has stepped in for senior Mia Reed, who tore her ACL in a basketball game against Triad on Feb. 12 and was lost for the season.
Offensively, the Bulldogs rely on junior Erika Lloyd (eight goals, five assists) and freshman Sydney Luedeman (eight goals, four assists). Eight other players have goals. Lloyd had 22 goals and 14 assists as a sophomore and 15 goals and 12 assists as a freshman.
“She’s been getting marked up a lot this year, so her scoring output hasn’t been the same as years past,” Holden said. “But the bottom line is we’re still winning. There are teams marking up on her and we’re finding other people to score.”
Lloyd said it’s all about winning.
“It’s been nice,” Lloyd said. “We’ve had a bunch of freshmen step up. Everybody has just come together and hopefully we do a great job this year. (The freshmen) play club, so I’m not surprised at how good they are. They’re a bunch of athletes; most of them play other sports as well.
“Our runs off the ball really help. Our speed definitely helps, too. Sydney Luedeman is great up top. She makes nice runs, and the midfield has made some nice runs. That helps get the ball wide so we can cross it over.”
Lloyd complimented the defenders for being versatile and adding what they can to the offensive side of Waterloo’s dominance.
“They’ve stepped up big-time,” Lloyd said. “Sierra Berg has made some good runs through the back which have helped out. Dani Maurer has been stepping up big in the back. The defense has been really good this year.”
In the midfield, senior Darby Nugent is a mainstay in her fourth season as a starter. She is joined by junior Sydney Metzger, freshman Emma Novack and sophomore Bailey Huebner.
Despite the youth, Holden wasn’t resolved to being a rebuilding program. He said it’s more common for an inexperienced girls team to have success than a boys team with a similar roster.
“I knew we had some talent. I just wasn’t sure if the younger girls might be a little intimidated here or there,” Holden said. “They all have their individual talent. The hardest part, I think, was just getting them all on the same page. Getting girls from different club teams, they all have their own different philosophies. We’ve incorporated ours and they’ve stuck with it.”
Holden acknowledges how bright the future could be for the Bulldogs, but doesn’t want to forfeit the promise of this season.
“Right now, we’re not too concerned about next year,” he said. “We feel we’ve got a chance to do something this year. We’re concentrating on this one right now. We still have a shot at conference if we win out. That’s our goal right now, to win our conference games and get to that last game of the year against Triad.”
“Hopefully, we get conference and have a chance in the regional and do pretty good there,” Lloyd said. “I think we have a good chance of getting (Triad) back.”
Belleville West, which improved to 8-1-2 on Tuesday with a 4-1 win at Springfield, will play in the Cyclones Invitational on Friday and Saturday at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin High.
The Maroons will open against St. Joseph’s (10-0) at 4 p.m. Friday. On Saturday, West will play Sacred Heart-Griffin and United Township of East Moline.
“St. Joe’s is No. 1 in the area right now. They’re ranked in the Midwest and they’re ranked nationally,” West coach Jason Mathenia said. “They’re going to be good, without a doubt.”
Other participating teams are Alton Marquette, Peoria Notre Dame, Providence Catholic, Quincy Notre Dame, Rochester and Wheaton Warrenville South.
West and Belleville East will meet for the city championship at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at East. West, East, Collinsville and Granite City, all of the Southwestern Conference, will represent the metro-east in the annual Adidas Tournament of Champions on May 1-2 in Burlington, Iowa.
The Maroons continue to encourage Mathenia with their talent and balance despite having several new faces in their lineup.
“I knew we were going to be young, and we are,” Mathenia said. “From time to time, we start four freshmen and three sophomores. There’s definitely youth out there. They can play; they have the ability. We have players capable of scoring this year, and we don’t have to rely on (senior) Sydnee Carroll to do all the work.”
Even so, Carroll, a four-year starter, leads the Maroons in scoring with seven goals and six assists. Senior Carli Tastad has seven goals and junior Amelia Coyne and freshman Taylor Mathenia have six goals apiece. Sophomore Alexis Miller has 11 assists to rank among the leaders in the St. Louis region.