Highland High soccer coach Josh Oswald admitted that he does not like to compare the girls and boys teams to one another, but he hopes that similarities between the two squads will lead to more success for the Lady Bulldogs this spring.
“Both teams have 12 seniors and return the bulk of their starters,” he said.
Now, Oswald hopes the girls can mirror the boys in terms of big gains in the wins column. In the fall of 2016, the Highland boys posted a strong 14-5-3 campaign and were crowned the Mississippi Valley Conference champions. That was a 180-degree turnaround from the previous year’s disappointing 7-16 season.
Oswald is optimistic that a wealth of upperclassmen — highlighted by the dozen seniors — mixed with some talented underclassmen will help the Lady Bulldogs take a big step forward this season. Last year, Highland went 9-10-1 in a season that was plagued by numerous injuries.
“We lost three players from last year, but we owe a lot to those three, because they have set a foundation for the younger players to build upon and grow going forward,” Oswald said. “We return a lot of good players and should have good depth. We have a lot of experience with our seniors and juniors, and we have a good group of talented younger players.”
But the schedule doesn’t offer many cream-puff opponents, and that is nowhere more evident than in Mississippi Valley Conference play. Triad is a perennial powerhouse and still has never lost a conference game.
Meanwhile, Waterloo has become a very formidable foe over the past several years, including going 20-4 two years ago and 17-4-2 last season. Also last spring, Waterloo battled to a pair of 0-0 draws with Triad (16-5-3) and earn a share of the MVC crown. It was the first time the Knights ever had to share the league title.
Highland will have to tackle Triad and Waterloo twice each during the season, and quite possibly one of them a third time counting the playoffs.
And the non-conference schedule also features some brutal competition with the likes of Granite City, Rochester, Alton and Mater Dei.
“So our season schedule is very, very tough, and we will have some bumps along the way, but we have a lot of potential, and we want to be the first HHS girls team to bring home a regional championship,” Oswald said.
Highland opens the season by competing in the annual Metro Cup Tournament, where the Bulldogs will first face Freeburg at 5:30 p.m. Monday, March 13.
Up front, Highland should feature a collection of forwards and midfielders battling for playing time who can score and create scoring opportunities.
Senior forward Alisse Koishor, who has already signed to play soccer at Kaskaskia College, should be ready to roll as she is fresh off helping the basketball team go 29-4 and reach the sectional championship. Last year, Koishor used her speed and skill to score four goals, which was good enough for third best on the team, and added a couple of assists.
As a freshman a year ago, Audrey Wilke led the team in goals with nine.
“Audrey was our leading scorer as a freshman, and she is getting better and stronger all the time,” Oswald said.
Junior Katelyn Wills battled through some minor injuries to pace the team with eight assists and finished second on the squad with six goals.
“Katie has two seasons under her belt now, and we’re looking to expand her role, and she is more than capable of being able to do that,” Oswald said.
Sophomore Katelyn Marti showed a lot of promise last year with two goals and three assists while also doubling as a runner for the track team, where she helped the 4 x 800 team earn the program’s best-ever state finish for a relay team with fourth place.
She suffered a serious knee injury, including a torn ACL while playing select soccer about a month after the high school season ended. She missed both cross country and basketball this year, but has returned for both track and soccer this spring.
“Kate gained a lot of valuable experience last year, and she is doing both track and soccer again this year after both worked out great for her last year,” Oswald said.
Also providing scoring punch and adding depth are seniors Abby Stulir, Sydney Kesner, Lyndi Stone and Chandler Flesch, as well as juniors Kallie Painter, Morgan Pace and Holly Straeter.
Stulir and Painter each netted two goals. Stulir also added three helpers.
Defense and goalies
Sophomore Rachel Miller should be vital to the Bulldogs on defense in the center backfield after gaining a lot of experience there last spring.
“When Abby was out last year, Rachel Miller came in to play next to senior Kate Sikora as a freshman and got a lot of experience. Now as a sophomore, (Miller) should be even better,” Oswald said.
Senior Abby Melosi returns to bolster the backfield after missing all of last year with knee injuries.
“She is looking good and moving around well,” Oswald said. “She played basketball, and we are excited to have her back. She is getting stronger every day and will help us out a lot in the backfield.”
Also helping out the defensive corps are seniors Taylor Townsend, Grace Curry, Candance Luitjohan and Katie Dalton, as well as juniors Megan Rapien and Megan Ramsey, and sophomores Jaqlyn Ferguson, Lauren Townsend, Kealy Korte and Jada Duncan.
Junior Morgan Zobrist returns after handling the bulk of the goalkeeping responsibilities last season.
“She got valuable experience in her first year as the starting keeper, and I am anxious to see how much she has improved,” Oswald said.
Also vying for time in the net are seniors Katie Bussett and Liz Meadows.