The Highland High School girls soccer team shut out both visiting Civic Memorial, 4-0, and Jerseyville, 3-0, in back-to-back days on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week to run its Mississippi Valley Conference winning streak to four games, all via a shutout.
After an 0-4 start in the MVC, Highland has pulled a 180-degree around and now boasts an even 4-4 mark in the conference.
In addition, HHS had a 1-6 record after a 3-0 loss at Waterloo on April 15. From that point on, Highland has played its best soccer of the season en route to posting an impressive 6-3-1 stretch to lift its overall mark to 7-9-1 prior to Tuesday’s scheduled road game at Mascoutah.
The tie came against a 14-3-3 Mater Dei team and the three losses were still respectable, with a 1-0 loss to an 18-2 Waterloo squad; a 3-2 overtime defeat to Carbondale due in large part to referees’ decisions; and a 3-1 loss to perennial power Granite City.
“We lost to Waterloo 3-0 at their place and really it could have been a 6-0 game because we weren’t really in the game at all,” said Highland coach Josh Oswald. “Then they come here and we play them the second time and lose 1-0.We could have just as easily won that game 1-0. And we go to CM and lost 2-1 and then here we win 4-0 in a pretty dominant performance, so we’ve been playing great. The last 2 1/2 weeks we have been playing phenomenal. It just took some time for the girls to gel and adjust to the key decisions we had made.”
And not including senior goalie Abbey Johnson, the Lady Bulldogs started the season without five of their 10 starting players from last year’s team, with Christina Amaro and Devan Kaufman graduating, co-leading goal scorer Amanda Ponce electing to play select basketball instead, and juniors Nicole Beaubien and Kate Sikora lost for the season due to injuries.
“That’s half of our starters right there,” Oswald said. “We’ve come a long way from day one until now. We had a little rocky start, but they are playing phenomenal right now. It’s the cohesiveness and the team is gelling well, playing good and having some better thoughts and better effort. It’s rubbing off on one another and we’re seeing better results because of it. The best part about this team is that they never got on each other and they never got down when we had the slow start. It is good to see them playing really well right now.”
Highland will face the tough Waterloo team for a third time in the second semifinal of the Class 2A Waterloo Regional at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 19. Waterloo is the No. 2 seed and Highland is the third seed.
The first semifinal pits top-seeded Triad against fourth-seeded Mascoutah at 4:30 p.m.
The two semifinal winners will play for the regional championship at 5 p.m. Friday, May 22.
Against CM, senior striker Morgan Sikora netted a hat track, including the game-winning first goal. She scored her first one late in the first half, then added a pair of tallies in about a three-minute span in the first eight minutes of the second half to cap off the hat trick and give her 16 for the year.
Then with 1:49 to play, sophomore Abby Stulir realized her first varsity goal which wrapped up the scoring in the game.
Freshman Kallie Painter dished out two assists after picking up helpers on Sikora’s third tally and the final marker of the game scored by Stulir. Also, senior Mackenzie Kleinmann and sophomore Alisse Koishor each handed out one assist, with Kleinmann assisting on Sikora’s first goal and Koishor setting up the second one.
“I think Maddie Wilke had her best game of the year,” Oswald said. “She didn’t get on the stat sheet but her effort was phenomnenal tonight and has been the last two weeks. She is really getting into her groove.”
In addition, Johnson wrote her name in the history books as she dismissed all 10 CM shots on goal to shatter the program record for shutouts with the 25th shutout of her illustrious prep career, the third this season.
“I don’t know, just doing what I do, “ a very humble Johnson said of her making several key saves down the stretch to preserve the historic shutout. “It was defnitely a big win and it was a team effort; I love my defense. I think we were all pumped up for this game and definitely wanted to come out here and do our best. We had a few scares like the one I thought was in. Morgan was big up top, and she definitely helped us out in the back too.”
Johnson was not done there. The very next day, she denied all nine Jerseyville shots on goal to nail down her fourth shutout of the year and raise to her milestone career total to 26.
As a freshman, Johnson posted 10 wins, seven by shutout. She followed that up with 11 wins and seven shutouts in her sophomore season before recording 12 wins and eight shutouts during her junior campaign.
Playing big roles on defense to support Johnson while playing a part in the shutouts have been junior Abby Melosi, seniors Rachel Koehnemann, Crystal Beckman and Rebecca Nation, as well as junior Lily Happold and sophomore sophomore Taylor Townsend.
Against Jerseyville, it was Koishor lighting up the scoreboard first for her first-ever varsity goal. Four seconds shy of the 11-minute mark of the match, Koishor received a lead pass from Sikora and Koishor beat the defender into the box before sliding a left-footed shot past the desparate, approaching keeper into the back of the net for the only goal the Lady Bulldogs really needed.
Then off a corner kick from Painter, Sikora rushed to the front of the net and chipped it in to increase her team-high total to 17 and make it 2-0 with 5:29 remaining in the first half. The assist was Painter’s fourth of the spring, which is tied for second on the team.
Finally with 26:54 to go in the game, freshman Katelyn Wills notched her fifth goal of the campaign which ranks second to Sikora on the team. Wills took a pass from fellow freshman Megan Rapien about 20 to 25 yards out, and then Wills sidestepped a defender and blasted the ball inside the far post. It was Rapien’s first career assist.
With her career shutout record, Johnson joins Sikora, who already reached a career milestone when she became the Lady Bulldogs’ all-time career leading goal and points scorer.
“We all have been working the ball and connecting passes the best we ever have,” Sikora said. “I think we are playing our best soccer of the season right now.”
When asked about her goal-scoring prowess, Sikora said with a smile, “I am aggressive and I really like to finish.”
At press time, Sikor’s 17 goals so far this season gives her an outstanding grand total of 72 career markers. Prior to being a senior, Sikora followed up a 17-goal freshman year with a 20-goal sophomore season and an 18-goal junior campaign.