Speed was the difference-maker Friday for the Columbia High girls soccer team.
Freshman Chloe Graff and junior Blair Wittenbrink scored two goals apiece as the Eagles defeated Freeburg 4-1 to earn the championship of the Class 1A Columbia Regional.
Columbia’s first two goals, one by Graff and the other by Wittenbrink, were on one-on-one chances against Midgets senior goalie Jenna Rodriguez. In both instances, Graff and Wittenbrink slipped past a defender to set up the easy chance.
Chloe and Blair, they’re quick. They’re a force. That’s huge. The key is possessing. Get it to the wings, get it to the middle and dangerous things happen. Blair and Chloe, they’re a good combination.
Columbia girls soccer coach on Chloe Graff and Blair Wittenbrink, who scored two goals apiece Friday
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“Chloe and Blair, they’re quick,” first-year Eagles coach Jamey Bridges said. “They’re a force. That’s huge. The key is possessing. Get it to the wings, get it to the middle and dangerous things happen. Blair and Chloe, they’re a good combination.”
Freeburg coach Julie Klazynski, whose team lost to Columbia 4-2 on April 11, knew the Eagles’ decided speed advantage would pose problems.
“We were slower than them on the back line and we had a hard time managing that,” Klazynski said. “They’re just so skilled everywhere. Every one of their players has such a good touch. So even without the speed, it’s hard to possess against them.
“I think they’re going to go far. I think they have the potential to make a run for (the state championship) and I hope they do.”
Columbia (14-5-2) will play Mater Dei (11-9-2) in the semifinals of the Althoff Sectional at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at McKendree University in Lebanon. The teams did not meet in the regular season.
Graff has five goals in her last three games to give her nine this season. Wittenbrink, always dangerous with her speed up the right side, leads Columbia with 15 goals.
We were slower than them on the back line and we had a hard time managing that. They’re just so skilled everywhere. Every one of their players has such a good touch. So even without the speed, it’s hard to possess against them.
Freeburg girls soccer coach Julie Klazynski on the Columbia Eagles
“(Graff) is a good player,” Bridges said. “She’s mentally tough, physically tough, she’s quick. To have that as a freshman makes the next three years very exciting. She’s a huge asset.”
Wittenbrink was kept off the board Tuesday in a 3-0 victory over Wesclin in the semifinals, but Freeburg wasn’t as fortunate.
“I think the other night was just more frustration,” Bridges said. “(Wesclin) packed it in and had a defensive formation. That made it difficult.”
Columbia controlled the action in the early stages of the game, but it remained scoreless until Graff got the ball and squeezed around a defender for her first goal at 9 minutes, 41 seconds. The assist was credited to junior Madelyne Juenger.
At 18:45, Wittenbrink scored on a similar play, outracing a defender to the ball and scoring unassisted past Rodriguez to make it 2-0.
Graff scored off a rebound to make it 3-0 at 35:06. Wittenbrink hit a shot off Rodriguez, and Graff was there to clean it up with an easy tap-in.
Wittenbrink made it 4-0 at 48:05, scoring in the middle of the box on a cross from the right side by freshman Jenna Jackson.
“(The first) one was a lot of luck,” Wittenbrink said. “I just went by (the defender), got a breakaway and luckily put it in. The second one, I was kind of lucky again. Just in the right place at the right time.”
I personally was nervous. And I think the rest of the team knew we couldn’t take this team lightly. We had to play to the best of our ability.
Columbia junior Blair Wittenbrink
Wittenbrink said she had an uneasy feeling heading into the game.
“I personally was nervous,” she said. “And I think the rest of the team knew we couldn’t take this team lightly. We had to play to the best of our ability.”
Freeburg’s goal came from senior Emily Schaller, who scored on a well-placed shot from 35 yards out at 72:04. Schaller’s kick caromed off the crossbar and into the netting for her eighth goal of the season.
The Eagles, like most Freeburg opponents, kept a close eye on talented forward Emilie Blomenkamp, who entered the contest with 18 goals and 13 assists.
“The game plan was to come in and shut down (No. 21) and to man-mark her,” Bridges said. “I thought we did a real good job. She wasn’t getting a lot of chances, and that (credit) goes to Taylor Parks. She did a really good job with that.”
Klazynski is accustomed to seeing opponents focus their defensive attention on Blomenkamp, a Southwestern Illinois College recruit, finished with 82 goals and 38 assists in four seasons at the varsity level.
“They double- and triple-team her and it takes her out of it,” Klazynski said.