Sizzling SWIC: Blue Storm ready for Region 24 Playoffs

With many of the former top high school players in the St. Louis area on the roster, second-year Southwestern Illinois College women’s soccer coach Juergen Huettner had high hopes heading into the 2015 season.

Four games into the season, the Blue Storm was 1-3 and Huettner was reassessing those hopes.

“We had to replace our entire backfield from last year and while a lot of these girls had played against each or and with each other on clubs teams through the years, we just didn’t have the right combination in the right spots and we were giving up a lot of goals,” Huettner said. “A lot of it was a chemistry issue so we tried several different combinations back there. We now have Claire Stark and Allison Pritchard and our defense has played much better the last few weeks.”

The reigning Region 24 champion, SWIC entered its regular-season ending game against Lincoln College on Tuesday with a 10-5 record. SWIC is the No. 4 seed for the always rugged playoffs which begin on Sunday at noon when the Blue Storm will host fifth-seeded Illinois Central College from Peoria.

Perennial national power Lewis and Clark Community College is top top seed, while Parkland College from Champaign is the No. 2 seed. Before Tuesday, SWIC was 9-2 in its last 11 games with the lone losses coming on the road at Kaskaskia College (3-2) and at Parkland (3-0).

“In both of those games we had scoring opportunities that we just didn’t take advantage of,” Huettner said. “That’s been probably the biggest problem because we’ve been able to generate lots of scoring opportunities that we haven’t put in the back of the goal. This team just doesn’t finish well and I really have no reason why. We’ve got very good offensive players.”

SWIC has two of the top offensive players in the nation in freshman Mikayla McCarthy from Collinsville and sohpomore Alyssa Houck from Freeburg. McCarthy leads the team in scoring with 49 points, while Houck has been in the top 10 in the nation with 24 assists.

“Mikayla has been outstanding all season. We knew she was very good offensively,” Huettner said. “Alyssa isn’t scoring as much but she’s done a good job of passing. She has to be among the top five in the nation now in assists. Merideth (Wendt) has just been a tremendous leader on this team. She’s just so unselfish and does a great of seeing the field and making great passes. We’ve got Kailey (Duncan) on the other side and she has also done a good job of scoring. She must have 10-12 goals.”

Despite the Blue Storm’s much improved play during the past month, Huettner knows they must play better is they want to advance deep into the postseason.

“With the players we had coming back and the ones we brought in this year, we were hoping to be the No.1 or No. 2 seed for the playoffs and so to be the No;. 4 seed is disappointing,” Huettner said. “Illinois Central will be a tough game on Sunday and then if we win there, we play at Lewis and Clark in the Region 24 semifinals.

“They are very well coached and we would have to play a near perfect game to beat them and they would have to not play as well. But any team can be beaten on a given day. If we get there, we’ll go and play hard and see what happens.”

Dean Criddle: 618-239-2661, @CriddleDean