Last spring, the Sacred Heart Gremlins were a surprise winner of a district girls soccer tournament.
Sacred Heart had reached the district championship game for the fourth straight year. This time, the Gremlins (5-10) beat St. Paul Lutheran 1-0 (3-1 on penalty kicks) to win their first district championship.
The Gremlins then beat Southern Boone 1-0 in a Class 1 sectional. Their season ended with a 5-1 loss to Springfield Catholic in the quarterfinals.
This year, the Gremlins have amassed a 12-6 record and are the top seed for the Class 1, District 9 tournament that begins today at St. Paul Lutheran High School in Concordia.
Sacred Heart coach Travis Cooper credits his team’s defense for its success this season.
“Overall, our defense has been extremely solid,” Cooper said. “We’re doing the work off the ball that it requires to win games. We’ve been successful this season with all that.”
The Gremlins have had their share of letdowns this season, but Cooper said his girls’ attitudes have made a difference.
“The entire attitude of the team has been extremely good,” Cooper said. “They’re here to work hard and work together. The petty differences really don’t affect the team. They seem to fight back through stuff.”
An example of the team’s mettle came in its recent 3-2 overtime win over Clinton.
The Gremlins fell behind 2-0 at halftime, playing without center back Honor Kehde (back).
Neither Kehde or holding midfielder Laura Wadley (hip) missed the Gremlins’ regular-season finale against KC Lutheran.
Morgan Bogue, who scored all three goals, has been playing through injuries, too.
“We’ve taken the last three days off this week,” Cooper said during practice on
Saturday. “Everybody should be back 100 percent by Monday.”
Bogue is the go-player on offense.
“She’s just an overall great contributor to the team,” Cooper said. “She’s not all about Morgan. She assists other players (and) can pull the trigger at the same time.”
Gabbi Ebers and Kehde give the Gremlins a balanced attack.
“We’ve had Honor run up out of the backfield several times, and she’s put several away this year,” Cooper said. “Gabbi Ebers has been coming on strong late in the season. She struggled a little early, but she’s starting to find her rhythm, and overall, I think everybody’s clicking at the right time.”
Don’t forget about the team’s only senior, Kaitlyn Sunnarborg.
“Kaitlyn’s speed is almost unmatched. She is just so quick,” Cooper said.
Sunnarborg isn’t the only Gremlin blessed with speed.
“I don’t know if there’s anyone who can match us all the way down the field, as far as our quickness and our speed off the ball and on the ball (are concerned),” Cooper said.
The Sacred Heart coach said that he still has a young team, which is good news for now and the future.
“Now we’re sitting in one of those positions you like to be in,” Cooper said. “We’ve got a fairly young team, but you’ve got a lot experience on your team, too.”
Sacred Heart has fared well in tournaments featuring larger schools at Kickapoo in Springfield and at Camdenton, going 2-1 in each.
“A lot of our losses have come against a lot bigger schools,” Cooper said. “When you increase your competition, you’re going to increase your losses. But that just improves the girls as players.”
The Gremlins, who have won five of their past seven games, will open against Stover at 5 p.m. today, followed by No. 2 St. Paul Lutheran vs. No. 3 Clinton at 7 p.m.
The championship match is set for 5 p.m. Wednesday.