SIOUX FALLS, SD - While most students, faculty and staff are enjoying summer vacation, a number of the Shattuck-St. Mary's girls' soccer program have been busy making history. An unexpected wild card bid gave the U-19 team an extra shot at advancing to the Region II Championships in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and the Sabres have taken full advantage of that opportunity by advancing to the semi-final for the girls time in the history of the girls' program.
"We are playing in the U-19 age group, but no one should think of this as our U-19 team," said Director of Girls Soccer Joe DeMay. "The team we have in South Dakota reflects exactly what we aspire to be as a program. All of our U-19s are not available for one reason or another so there are players in this group from all three teams who are helping write a new page in the SSM history books. We try to emphasize to our players that they are all part of one program more than they are part of any specific team within the program and this weekend has been a testament to that mentality."
One of the reasons keeping the U-19 team from re-forming for this post-season run is illness. The day the team was set to depart for South Dakota three players were hit with a gastrointestinal virus that kept two of them from traveling. Once in the Rushmore State, more players came down with the illness.
"We have not been 100% since we left Faribault," DeMay explained. "But, again, the mentality that we dig deep and make the best of things is a major part of what our coaches and team leaders try to instil in everyone and we've seen that type of character in abundance to this point."
The Sabres started the event with a come from behind 3-2 win against Nebraska State Cup champions, GSC Prima. The Sabres fell behind against the run of play in the first half only to see Sydney Haustein '19 level the score from an assist by Ari Morgan '18. GSC retook the lead in the second half, but the Sabres responded with Morgan setting up another goal, this one for Halie Reznik '18, and Nina LeFlore '20 pushing the Sabres in front just four minutes from full time.
The second game saw SSM take on the Iowa State Cup champs, ICA/ISC in a game that proved even more difficult due to wind and the loss of more players to the bug running through the team. Despite taking an early lead on a goal from Morgan that was set up by Haustein, the Iowans equalized midway through the second half. The remainder of the game turned into a tough midfield battle with neither team able to gain a clear edge in the contest so the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
That result was good enough to put the Sabres in first place in their group standings and allow them to control their own destiny in the last game. A win ensured the team would move on to the semi-final while a draw could also see the team through if the result of the game involving the other team in the group went the right way.
That third game pitted SSM against a very good Kansas State cup champ, Overland Park Soccer Club. The Sabres withstood heavy first half pressure, but only surrendered one goal while scoring one of their own on a counter attack when LeFlore sent a beautiful long range pass for Reznik to collect, round the goalkeeper on the dribble and calmly level the score with her shot.
SSM was able to reorganize and compose themselves at the half allowing the team to better possess the ball to relieve some of the pressure OPSC had applied in the first stanza. Word filtered through that the other group game was going the right way for the Sabres, meaning a draw would suffice for advancement. While they managed to create several half chances, SSM was unable to find the go ahead goal that would have provided much-needed relief. Nevertheless, the stalwart defensive effort from the entire team kept OPSC at bay for the remainder of the match allowing the Sabres to advance to their first Regional Championship semi-final.
"We haven't always necessarily played the way we would prefer to play" observed DeMay, "but what we have seen this weekend is the Shattuck-St. Mary's family spirit within our program. We have rising sophomores playing against rising college sophomores and they're making an impact. We have two alumnae who offered to take time from their summer to come play when they heard we needed help due to the circumstances.
"This group keeps finding a way to get the job done and in a competition like this it's all about surviving and advancing. Give yourself a chance to play tomorrow, that's our goal and this group has allowed us to do that so full credit to each and every one of the players on the roster."
The Sabres have a well earned day of rest Monday before heading into the semi-final on Tuesday. Kickoff is set for 12:00 PM CDT on Field 14.