The Highland High School girls soccer team had a good showing with a shorthanded roster as the Lady Bulldogs went 3-0-1 and took third place in the Puma Bracket of the season-opening Metro Cup Tournament.
Utilizing a ball-control offense combined with a stingy defensive scheme, the Lady Bulldogs surrendered just two goals in the four games, highlighted by a pair of shutouts.
First on Monday, March 12 at Freeburg, Highland battled to a 1-1 draw with rival Mater Dei. The next day at Belleville West, the Bulldogs edged out Mount Vernon 2-1. Then to wrap up pool play on Friday at Columbia, Highland blanked Jerseyville 2-0.
Mater Dei also went 2-0-1 in pool play but the Knights won the pool on a tiebreaker after routing Jerseyville, 7-0, and Mount Vernon, 6-0.
In the finals of the Puma Bracket on Saturday, Highland went on to eclipse host Freeburg, 1-0, in the third-place game, while Mater Dei was edged out by Marion, 1-0, in the championship game.
"We know that we have had to try something new, and the girls are adjusting, and they did fantastic job only giving up two goals and not having a whole lot of offense," Highland coach Josh Oswald said. "We are not a speedy team who can get by the other team's defense, so our strength has to be knocking the ball around, keeping possession of it for as long as we can, and limiting the other team's opportunities. We only had 12 girls on the varsity roster, and we played four games in five days, but I think the girls did an outstanding job. The girls were attentive and receptive to everything we coaches said, and they did a great job adapting and working hard."
Sophomore Ashlen DeLuca was the offensive catalyst for Highland as she found the back of the net three times, which represented half of the team's six total goals in the four games and two of her three tallies were game winners. DeLuca also had one assist.
DeLuca scored in the first half against Mater Dei. She also had a goal and an assist in the first half of Highland's 2-1 victory over Mount Vernon, and produced the only goal in the 1-0 win over Freeburg in the third-place game.
Senior Kallie Painter notched the game winner in the second half of the 2-0 win over Jerseyville.
Junior Jaqlyn Ferguson also scored in the first half against Mount Vernon, and Morgan Pace added an insurance goal in the second half against Jerseyville.
"Ashlen was fantastic leading the way with three goals," Oswald said. "She has a big foot, and so does Kallie (Painter). They create a lot of chances at the midfield, and a lot of those chances come from distance. Jaqlyn Ferguson did an outstanding job controlling the midfield and keeping possession of the ball."
Not to be overlooked were the play of senior goalkeeper Morgan Zobrist and the junior defensive trio of Rachel Miller, Jaida Duncan and Kealy Korte.
Zobrist made four saves in the 1-1 draw with Mater Dei. She also had two saves in each of the wins over Mount Vernon and Jerseyville and turned away all six shots in the shutout victory over Freeburg that clinched third place.
"Rachel Miller, Jaida Duncan and Kealy Korte were all fantastic on defense," Oswald said. "For those three, communication is key on the back line, and they communicated very well. Morgan Zobrist played great in the net and made some big saves against Freeburg to help preserve third place for us."