After being shutout in the first two games by Althoff (1-0) and Columbia (2-0), the Highland soccer Lady Bulldogs battled back to double up Alton 2-1 on Saturday and take 11th place in the ultra-tough Nike Bracket of the Metro Cup Tournament.
“We won the Adidas Bracket last year, so this year we were bumped up to the Nike Bracket, which was a very tough bracket,” said Highland coach Josh Oswald. “We played a lot better in the last game, but in general, I thought we played pretty well. We played three tough opponents.
“Overall, I am pretty happy with the way we played. The girls competed hard and we like this tournament because it is almost like playing three scrimmage games and we get to move people around. It was a little more difficult with the level of competition and being down five girls from last season with the loss of (junior) Kate (Sikora) to an injury (knee), but I thought we competed pretty well and the girls were able to gel together by the end of it.”
The schedule was not going to get any easier this week, with Triad scheduled to host the Lady Bulldogs on Tuesday night, weather permitting, before Highland is scheduled to host Waterloo today at Glik Park.
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“It was good to get three games under our belts before we face Triad and Waterloo to get our conference season started in a big way. We will know where we stand right away in the conference.”
Edwardsville won the Nike Bracket with a narrow 2-1 victory over Waterloo while O’Fallon blanked Springfield 2-0 in the third-place game. Triad went 1-2 and finished in eighth place in the Nike Bracket after beating Alton 3-0 and then losing 1-0 to O’Fallon and 2-0 to Rochester.
Against Alton Saturday at Oerter Park in Columbia, Highland junior goalie Abbey Johnson played a pivotal role in her team’s win, turning away 16 of the 17 shots she faced and coming very close to earning the shutout.
Highland got on the board first when senior striker Morgan Sikora scored off a free kick about 15 minutes into the game. Sikora saw that the keeper was helping build the wall and not in the middle of the goal, so Sikora sent a low screamer just off the ground that found the back of the net inside the far post for a 1-0 lead for the Lady Bulldogs.
Alton tied it up about 15 minutes after halftime, also on a free kick. But Highland and Sikora were not going to be denied. A little past the halfway point of the second half, the Sikora notched the game-winning goal. Freshman Katelyn Wills took advantage of playing up top with Sikora when she picked the ball up on Sikora’s side of the field, and dribbled a ways before slipping a beautiful pass behind Alton’s defense and Sikora outraced the keeper to the ball and and tapped it into the empty net.
At Columbia, on Wednesday of last week, the Eagles Blair Wittenbrink scored a crushing goal against the Lady Bulldogs with 17 seconds left in the first half. Columbia’s Lauren Tolan added an insurance goal after halftime.
Another big blow for Highland was Kate Sikora suffering an injured knee in the game. She was scheduled for an MRI and the results should be available today.
Johnson made seven saves for Highland.