The Columbia High girls soccer team was unable to escape the Class 1A sectional tournament last season, but the Eagles are giving every indication that won’t happen again.
With eight consecutive victories, six via shutout, second-year coach Jamey Bridges has the Eagles (15-2-1) on a roll as the postseason cranks up next week.
Columbia’s only losses are 2-1 to Alton and 1-0 to Belleville West. The Eagles avenged the defeat to Alton with a 3-1 victory in the rematch April 24, and along the way they also posted impressive wins over St. Louis power Nerinx Hall and Quincy.
“We returned a lot of key players,” said Bridges, whose team finished 15-6-2 last season after losing 2-1 in penalty kicks to Alton Marquette in the sectional final. “No disrespect to last year’s team, but this team is definitely more talented and hungry. I’ve told them from day one, ‘We don’t fear any opponent. The only one that can hurt us is ourself.’ We have to stay away from injuries, stay focused and not be complacent.”
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Columbia, seeded first in the Columbia Regional, will face sixth-seeded Murphysboro at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the semifinals. A win would advance the Eagles into the championship game at 6 p.m. May 12 against fourth-seeded Anna-Jonesboro or fourth-seeded Gibault.
The Eagles have outscored foes 64-7, with Alton the only team to score more than one. Sophomore goalie Rylee Iorio has been a rock in her first year as a starter, with help from leading defenders Morgan Glaenzer, a senior, and Taylor Parks, a junior. Glaenzer is a Division I recruit who has signed with Tennessee-Martin of the Ohio Valley Conference.
“Morgan Glaenzer and Taylor Parks, I can’t say enough about (them),” Bridges said. “Even when Rylee is being interviewed, she gives credit to her back line, just because defensively, they’re really strong. That attributes to the amount of shutouts we have.”
Seniors Samantha Bostick and Kalee Jackson also are defenders, as is sophomore Jenna Jackson.
Parks typically marks the opponent’s No. 1 scoring threat.
“Taylor is probably one of the toughest girls I’ve ever coached,” Bridges said. “There are times she gets knocked down and you think, ‘This was the one,’ and she gets right back up. We have her mark key players and she’s really good at that. She’s such a competitor.”
Senior Madelyne Juenger, who has signed with Division II Southern Indiana of the Great Lakes Valley Conference, also helps out on defense and in the midfield.
Iorio, who played under Alison Riddle last season, has 12 shutouts and a 0.40 goals-against average. Her save of a penalty kick helped the Eagles earn their win over Nerinx Hall.
“Nerinx is a 1-1 game without her,” Bridges said. “She stopped that PK about 10 minutes after we scored. That was indicative of how she’s been this year. When she’s had to come up big, she has. Outside of the Alton game at the beginning of the year, she’s not let in multiple goals.”
Nerinx Hall is a team that has given Columbia fits over the years.
“The girls’ mindset going into that game (has always been), ‘Oh, it’s Nerinx,’” Bridges said. “It’s almost like they counted it as a loss. But it felt different this year. That was huge.”
Sophomore forward Kennedy Jones, who scored against Nerinx Hall, tops the Eagles with 19 goals and also has five assists. She played at Ursuline Academy in St. Louis last season.
“She’s quick, she’s skilled and she uses both feet (to score),” Bridges said. “A lot of players have a tendency to dominate with their left or right foot. I would venture to say she’s pretty equal with left-footed and right-footed goals. She’s very diverse in that way.”
Sophomore midfielder Fae Harrell (11 goals, 11 assists) is Columbia’s top playmaker, while senior Blair Wittenbrink (10 goals) is dangerous all over the field. Sophomore Chloe Graff, who sparked the Eagles in the playoffs last year, and freshman Regan Mauch each have six goals. Sophomore Sophia Bonaldi has eight assists.
Bridges said Wittenbrink, one of the fastest players on the team, could wind up playing at Missouri.
While the victory over Nerinx Hall represented a huge accomplishment, Bridges doesn’t disregard the decision against Alton in the rematch.
“Character-building, for me, was the (second) Alton game,” he said. “I told them, ‘This will tell you how far you’ve come.’ To win 3-1 against Alton ... Any time you can beat a Southwestern Conference school, it’s a good thing.
“And going to (Burlington) Iowa this past weekend was pretty big for us. We only played two games and the conditions were crazy, but to beat a team like Quincy, that was fun.”
Bridges likes to play the best.
“We’ve already added Collinsville next year,” he said. “We want to be better. To be that, you’ve got to beat good teams. To beat them, you’ve got to play them. I feel like we can play with anybody.”
Triad sophomore to SLU
Sophomore defender Sydney Beach of the Triad Knights has given a verbal commitment to Division I Saint Louis University of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s exciting,” said Beach, already a two-year varsity starter who also considered Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. “Although both were close to home, SLU is just across the river and it has a really good nursing program. I thought it was a good fit for me. Just being there when I made visits, it felt right.”
Beach has always enjoyed playing defense.
“That’s where I feel most comfortable and it’s what I like the best,” she said. “I like having almost kind of like that good weight on my shoulders ... of taking on (an opponent’s) fastest forward or their best forward. I use my speed, but also my technical abilities. I’m willing to do what I need to do to get that ball back.”
Triad (13-5 overall, 8-0 in the Mississippi Valley Conference) is scheduled to play at Belleville West at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. On Tuesday, the Knights have a key conference game against visiting Waterloo (9-3-4, 7-1-1). Triad defeated the Bulldogs 4-0 on April 4.
Another college commitment this week came from Belleville West junior midfielder Addison Hanusek.
Hanusek, who has one goal and one assist, will attend Columbus State University, a Division II school located in Columbus, Ga.
BND Girls Soccer Rankings
Rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses; records through Wednesday.
All Classes (1A, 2A, 3A)
Also receiving votes: Granite City (12-4), Althoff (11-6-1), Alton (9-4-2), Waterloo (9-3-4), Belleville East (7-6-3), Roxana (12-1).