High School Sports

West girls soccer team has talent, but rebuilding the defense a challenge for coach

Belleville West’s girls soccer team has plenty of pieces. Now it’s up to coach Jason Mathenia to put them in the right place.

The Maroons present a jigsaw puzzle for Mathenia, in his 16th season. They graduated their top defenders and two of their three leading goal-scorers, and Mathenia is scurrying to find replacements before the season opener against visiting Naperville Central at 7 p.m. March 18.

“We lost a lot of key players, especially in the backfield,” said Mathenia, whose team finished 15-4-3 in 2015. “It will be a challenge to repeat (15-4-3). I’m not saying we can’t do it, but it will definitely be challenging. We lost a lot of good leaders.”

The defense

West graduated defenders Taylor Vollmer and Carly Ratay. Another defender, Lexi Miller, decided not to play this season. Vollmer is a freshman at Missouri S&T.

Filling the voids will be combinations of juniors Kacie Kinnikin and Madeline Seitz and seniors Emma Gregowicz, Alexis Rains and Emma Malherek. Mathenia said he also could utilize a freshman, Abby Haas, on the back line.

“That’s going to be the first thing we’re addressing and tackling,” Mathenia said of formulating the Maroons’ defense. “We’re trying to figure out what’s going to be best for us in the backfield and work our way up.”

Sophomore goalie Bailey Redden returns in goal and will battle for time with senior Erika Harvey sophomore Mequella Kuhlmann.

“Mequella Kuhlmann’s looking good early on and Erika Harvey, we’re waiting for her to get healthy from a basketball injury to see what she brings to the table,” Mathenia said.

The offense

Two of West’s top three goal-scorers graduated: Sydnee Carroll (12 goals, eight assists) and midfielder Carli Tastad (nine goals, two assists). Carroll plays at McKendree University, while Tastad is with Vollmer at Missouri S&T.

Senior Amelia “Mia” Coyne, who has signed with Truman State, and sophomore Taylor Mathenia, the coach’s daughter, will be relied on to replace the lost offensive talent. Mathenia had nine goals last season, while Coyne added seven.

We lost a lot of key players, especially in the backfield. It will be a challenge to repeat (15-4-3). I’m not saying we can’t do it, but it will definitely be challenging. We lost a lot of good leaders.

Belleville West girls soccer coach Jason Mathenia

Jason Mathenia doesn’t yet know whether Taylor Mathenia, returning from a fractured vertebrae, and Coyne will remain in the midfield. He could keep both in the midfield, move them both to forward or have one play the midfield and the other shift to forward.

Regardless, both players will be targeted by opposing teams.

“I’ve talked to Taylor and said, ‘You’re going to be marked. You’re going to have to figure it out. Last year, you were kind of the unknown. You’re known now,’” Jason Mathenia said. “She has to figure out whether she can handle it physically and mentally.”

Coyne is expected to be reliable once again.

“She’s one of our quiet leaders,” Mathenia said. “I wish I could get her to be more vocal this year. I think we’ll get that eventually. As of now, she’s definitely going to add leadership. She adapts extremely well to the game itself; she reads the game well.”

It’s a work in progress. It seems like every day, we’re looking at different things, different scenarios, different formations. Losing an all-stater (Sydnee Carroll) is never an easy thing, but hopefully there will be somebody anxious to fill in where she left off.

Belleville West girls coach Jason Mathenia on the Maroons’ offense

Despite the presence of Taylor Mathenia and Coyne, Jason Mathenia said the offense is still somewhat of a question mark.

“It’s a work in progress,” Jason Mathenia said. “It seems like every day, we’re looking at different things, different scenarios, different formations. Losing an all-stater (Carroll) is never an easy thing, but hopefully there will be somebody anxious to fill in where she left off.”

Rounding out the roster

Other seniors include forwards Andrea Dauphin and Tori Cheffer.

Juniors include midfielders Jamie Adams and Lauren Seibert, while the sophomore class is headed by midfielders Melanie Kulig and Addison Hanusek.

Freshmen include versatile Courtney Vollmer and midfielder Katelyn Grandcolas, both of whom are expected to see considerable time on the field along with Haas.

Mathenia said the Maroons must be ready for their season opener.

“Naperville Central is very, very good,” Mathenia said. “We’ll see where we’re at in that first game defensively, against them, for sure.”

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm

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