The Francis Howell North girls soccer team is collectively focused on one main objective and one alone – making a return trip to the Class 3 state tournament.
The Knights reached the semifinals last season for the first time since 1997 and getting back to state has been a priority since the first day of practice this spring.
“It was a really a big thing for the school last year and the players would really like to get back there again,” said Howell North coach Mark Olwig.
So far, the Knights are off to a decent start, entering mid-April with a 5-3 mark.
Howell North has victories over Incarnate Word (1-0), St. Charles (1-0), Fort Zumwalt West (2-1) and Troy Buchanan (2-1), taking four of their first five games between March 25 and April 4.
“The first five or six games we were getting good timely scoring and when that happens it takes pressure off your goalies,” Olwig said.
Senior forward Bailey North has been a huge part of the Knights’ offense’s early success.
“Bailey got off to a real good start for us but has been struggling a bit lately,” Olwig said. “But we think she will get back on track soon enough.”
Also helping out on the frontline is senior midfielder Carly Bond and junior back Julia Crets. Bond, who helped power the Knights’ state run last year, has four assists and six points so far this season. Crets normally works in the backfield, but also is able at the sweeper position and gives the Knights some flexibility.
In the backfield, the Knights are getting steady play from the likes of senior backs Maddy Snyder and Shelby Wiebe. Junior back Sami Sneed also is consistently earning minutes with her work in the back end.
“Snyder, Wiebe and Sneed give us a good back line defensively,” Olwig said.
Scoring has been running a bit hot and cold for the Knights in the early part of the season but the team’s goaltending has given them a chance to win virtually every game on the schedule to date.
Junior goalkeeper Emily Rish and senior keeper Alexis Tainter have managed to put a force-field of protection around the goal box – allowing no more than three goals in a game and sporting ridiculously low goals-against averages of .667 and 1.000, respectively, heading into late April.
“Emily and Alexis have really done well for us so far,” Olwig said. “Since they don’t allow a lot of soft goals, it really gives us freedom to be more aggressive with getting shots and creating scoring chances on the front end.”
There is one riddle the Knights will have to solve before the district playoffs roll around in mid-May – getting more scoring chances and production from the offense. Due in part to the flu bug hitting various players and a few untimely injuries, scoring has dipped a bit in recent games.
The Knights were shut out by Timberland (1-0) and Fort Zumwalt South (3-0) last week. Those performances will not help the team going into the playoffs, but Olwig is hopeful.
“I think once we get a bit healthier, we will just need to be more aggressive in creating shots and then the offense can get rolling again,” Olwig said.
He feels the group is ready for the challenge and that if they want to make it back to state they know nothing is a given or will be handed to them.
“I think they know what we need to do, and they know there are other teams out there that will be ready for them,” Olwig said.