The first 19 games of Juergen Huettner’s rookie season as coach of the Southwestern Illinois College women’s soccer team were close to perfect in 2014 as the Blue Storm rolled out to a 16-0-3 record and was ranked seventh in the NJCAA Division I poll.
Game No.20 was anything but perfect as St. Charles (Mo.) scored a pair of second-half goals to edge SWIC 3-2 in the District 5 finals and move on to the NJCAA National Tournament.
“A game like that ... it sticks with you. I think any good coach and committed players in your program will want to remember what happened so if you find yourself in that same position again, maybe you do things a little differently. Maybe you fight a little harder,” Huettner said. “As a coach looking back, I think maybe we did it to ourselves a little bit. Maybe we didn’t play as well as we had all year.
“But to come so close to going to the national tournament and come up short ... it hurts and it stays with you.”
Beginning his second year with two of the top players in Region 24 in sophomores Alyssa Houck and Meredith Wendt, a dynamic goaltending duo of Holly Bluemner and McKenzie White and an exceptional freshman class, Huettner is hoping 2015 will be the year the Blue Storm wins at least one more postseason game.
Included among the 14 new players brought in by Huettner and his staff this season are high-scoring Mikayla McCarthy (Collinsville) and Bailey Dabney (Silverdale, Wash.). Those two along, with a third sophomore in Elena Mendez, give SWIC five solid players with good speed and the ability to put the ball in the back of the net.
And there are more as well.
“Houck and Wendt are two of the players we’re going to look to for offense. They both had good seasons a year ago and we’re looking for more good play from them this year,” Huettner said. “Mikayla (McCarthy) had a very good career at Collinsville and we’re looking for her to step in and Bailey (Dabney) has also impressed me with her good skills. Plus Elena (Mendez), who didn’t play a lot last year, we’re hoping she can play well.
“There is a lot of competition for playing time on this team. There is a lot of talent and depth which is why we’re playing five exhibition games. We want to see where everybody fits in. We’ve got three games this week and hopefully after that we’ll have a better idea. But talent-wise, we’re very deep.”
SWIC, which opened its preseason slate Thursday against Lindenwood-Belleville, will host Maryville University on Saturday at 6 p.m. It will then play at McKendree University on Sunday at 6 p.m. The Blue Storm opens its regular season on Sept. 4 at East Florida State College in Melbourne, Fla.
Highly touted players such as Allison Pritchard from Edwardsville and Hayley Guerrero from St. Louis (Mehlville H.S.) will also play in the midfield, as will Lindsay Pearson from Riverton.
One main concern for the Blue Storm will be on the defensive side of the field., where it lost all five of its starters. Huettner said all five are playing at four-year schools.
The leader of the Blue Storm defense could be sophomore Claire Stark. A transfer from McKendree University, Stark has made an impression on her new coach.
“Getting a player of Claire’s ability, a player who played 18 games at McKendree and was one of its best players last year, is a great thing for us because of the players we graduated a year ago,” Huettner said. “Kelli (Kinnikin) was hurt last year, but she is a solid defender as is Tori (Ford ) from Collinsville and Michelle Grotefendt and Kailey (Duncan), both from Triad.
“Katie Miskovic can play either defense or in the midfield while Allyson (Mentzer) from (Belleville) West will also get a chance.”
Taylor Buske from Granite City and Amy Osnesky from Triad also are competing for playing time on the Blue Storm defense.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at email@example.com or 618-239-2661.