The Highland High School girls soccer team takes the field down four starters from last spring, but the Lady Bulldogs do bring back a wealth of experience with seven starters returning to the fold.
“We lose four starters, so that means we return seven, which is still pretty good, and we’re pretty optimist about the year,” said Highland coach Josh Oswald. “Obviously, those four are huge losses, but we think that we have got other girls that will step up, and we feel we are going to have a pretty solid team all around. I think overall, we feel that we have a solid 15 or 16 girls that we can put out on the field, and we don’t lose any skill.
“So, we have some huge losses, but we are moving forward, and we’re happy with what we have. The girls have been working hard in the offseason and improving, and we think we can compete and should have a pretty successful season. And maybe this is the year that we finally knock Triad off.”
Beating Triad would be historic, because the Knights have still never lost a Mississippi Valley Conference game since its inception in 1998. Highland has been close in Oswald’s first two years at the helm, as the Lady Bulldogs were tied 1-1 with Triad with 11 minutes to go, before falling 2-1. Highland also suffered another 2-1 defeat to the Knights under Oswald.
In addition to losing two to graduation in Devan Kaufman and Christina Amaro, big losses are Amanda Ponce and Nicole Beaubien. Ponce, who tied for the team lead last spring with 18 goals, chose to not to play soccer anymore because she wants to focus solely on basketball so she will play select basketball instead, while Beaubien, who led the team in assists last year, has to sit out this spring because she has not recovered fully after suffering a concussion in an auto accident this past fall.
A big bright spot for Highland is bringing back senior goalkeeper Abby Johnson, who will be starting between the pipes for the third straight season. She is coming off a great season a year a go in which she recorded eight shutouts and was named to the All-MississippiValley Conference Second Team.
“This year will be Abby’s third year in the net for us, and she had a a phenomenal season last year,” Oswald said. “As a sophomore, she was great, and last year as a junior, she was outstanding. She just improved so much with a lot of little things that really helped us out. So having her return, and all of our back four returning as well, we should be strong defensively. We’ve got some experience back there, and we feel strong with those five back there. And we feel we got some girls who can score some goals. So we feel we should have a nice balance this season.”
Coming back in the backfield are sophomore Abby Melosi, as well as seniors Rachel Koehnemann, Becca Nation and Crystal Beckman. In addition, Lily Happold, should also see time in the backfield.
And coach Oswald said that he can always move junior Kate Sikora and freshman Katie Wills to the backfield, if need be, because they are natural center backs. But with the losses of Kaufman to graduation and Beaubien to concussion, he said they will look for Sikora and Wills to fill some of the void left by their departure at center midfield to start the season.
“It’s all a trial process and we have to see how everybody meshes,” he said.
Up top wreaking havoc from her striker position will again be senior forward Morgan Sikora, who shared the team lead in goals last with 18 markers.
“We still have Morgan up top and hopefully by the end of the season she should be the all-time leading goal scorer here at Highland,” Oswald said. “We’ll probably look to play her at sweeper at times, but to start I think we’ll keep her up top because we feel confident who we have back there already.”
Oswald said even with the loss of Ponce up top, he will still try to have a two-striker attack at times. He said options to join Morgan Sikora up top are senior Mackenzie Kleinmann, sophomore Alisse Koishor or Melosi.
“Kenz (Kleinmann) will start at forward, and I thought she did a phenomenal job last year playing that wing mid(field), and the second half of the season you could see how much she improved just from playing and getting touches,” Oswald said. “So, we look at her to pick up where she left off. Amanda (Ponce) is a big hole to fill, but we think Kenzie can score some goals for us, and her and Morgan up top should be tough to handle as well.”
Oswald said Kate (Sikora) also has plenty of capability to score some goals.
“If there is a ball bouncing, she is very good off volleys,” he said. “Her and her hister are very aggressive. They are a tough two people to go into tackles with. And Katie Wills has also shown us a lot so far this year. I think she is going to be key to how well we do, , withow well she can provide some of that loss that we lose from Devan and Nicole.”
Melosi, who was the team’s leading scorer at the junior varsity level last year, will start in the backfield but could be moved up at times to join up with Sikora as a striker.
On the wings will be senior Maddie Wilke and Koishor.
Oswald said there will also be a few freshmen coming off the bench to help add depth to the lineup.
Metro Cup Tournament
Highland kicked off the season Monday in the Metro Cup Tournament. The Lady Bulldogs, who won the tournament a year ago, were bumped up to the more-talented bracket this year.
Highland fell 1-0 to a tough Althoff squad Monday night at Columbia High School. Amanda Kaltwasser scored the game’s only goal in the second half off an assist from Sophie Monken.
The Crusaders outshot the Lady Bulldogs 13-3 for the game.
Johnson converted 10 saves for Highland while Emily Lassman made two saves to earn the shutout for Althoff.
The Lady Bulldogs went on to take on Columbia Wednesday evening, after press time. Columbia lost to Belleville East 2-1 on Monday.