Four girls soccer teams in the Gateway Athletic Conference South were a head above the rest this season.
Whenever Francis Howell North (17-7-1), Fort Zumwalt West (18-7-1), Francis Howell (18-5-2) and Troy (18-6) got together, competition was fierce.
Howell North kept its season alive the longest among conference teams. The Knights beat rival Francis Howell twice, including a 2-1 win in the District 7 final, and dispatched District 8 champion Zumwalt West 1-0 in the Class 3 sectional round. They bowed out after a 4-0 loss to Incarnate Word Academy in the quarterfinals.
That list of accomplishments came in Mark Olwig's first year as coach after his long tenure as coach at St. Charles West.
"Change was happening and it's kind of an uneasy feeling when you don't know what to expect," said Olwig, whose team split the GAC South title with Zumwalt West with a 5-1 league record. "Overall, it was an awesome result. The girls were great throughout the year and we met our first and foremost goal of winning our district. Making it to the quarterfinals was just outstanding."
Francis Howell North
The Knights had three players named to the all-conference first team including senior Kelsey Fouch, who shared player of the year honors with Francis Howell's Julie Mooney.
A defenseman by trade, Fouch was asked by Olwig to switch positions and her successful transition as a striker paid dividends. She compiled a team-high 18 goals, four game-winning goals and five assists.
"We needed some (scoring) punch there and she embraced that role," Olwig said. "She took some lumps early but kept building on it. She didn't score 40 goals like some girls but when she did score they were big goals. With her touch, shooting ability and speed, she's a threat even without the ball."
Joining Fouch on the first team from Howell North are senior defender Stephanie Blanchard and junior midfielder Meghan Frkovic.
Blanchard was a key figure in the Knights backfield, especially with Fouch's position switch. The only goal she scored this year was a game-winner and she added three assists.
But her true value lied in her defensive prowess.
"She was a three-year varsity starter and was as solid as a rock all year in the back," Olwig said. "We knew game in and game out what we'd get from her and she performed up to some high expectations. We had three other backs who were very good but she was a leader back there for us."
Frkovic was a productive scorer out of the midfield with 11 goals and a team-high eight assists but was bitten by the injury bug in the final week of the regular season. A broken foot kept her out of action for the Knights' playoff run but she'll have a whole offseason to mend in the hopes of coming back strong for her senior year.
"She was (disappointed) but what was great about it was she still came to every practice and every game in a boot and on crutches," Olwig said. "She was so supportive. It could have been a moment to sulk a little bit but she was there for the team."
Fort Zumwalt West
Defense was the name of the game for Zumwalt West, which allowed just 15 goals in 26 games and had two defenders and a goalie selected to the all-conference first team.
"Defense has been our hallmark since I've been coach there," Jack Baldwin said.
She may have had help from some top-notch defenders playing in front of her, but senior Emily Johnson was a rock in goal for the Jaguars. She finished with 12 solo shutouts and a 0.56 goals-against average and will play soccer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Senior Sarah Krispin and junior Paige Westbrook each nabbed a spot as first-team defenders. Krispin, a Truman State University recruit, served as a marking back and often guarded the opposing team's best player.
"She's not much of a rah-rah player but she just did the job and everybody followed," Baldwin said.
Westbrook was also a shut-down defender that excelled at advancing the ball forward out of harm's way and setting up her teammates with scoring opportunities.
"She's the basketball phenom who plays soccer," Baldwin said. "Or as (Jaguars girls basketball coach) Monica Tritz says, a soccer phenom who plays basketball. Either way, Paige is the real deal."
While Zumwalt West was the conference's top defensive squad, Troy held the distinction as the top offensive team with a league-high 74 goals on the year.
The Trojanettes' first-team selections reflected that strong aspect of the team, as juniors Hunter Wagoner and Emily Crane were two of the conference's standout goal-scorers.
Wagoner did much of her damage from the midfield and finished with a league-high 24 goals including seven game-winners and 11 assists.
"Defenses had to respect Emily's speed and that made Hunter an even more difficult player to defend," Troy coach Buddy Entwistle said. "Hunter's one of the best players in the conference and oftentimes for us it was a situation where as Hunter went, so did our team."
Crane, a standout softball player who has committed to Mizzou, was also an elite goal-scorer, netting 17 goals including five game-winners and 11 assists.
"She has a knack for putting herself in the right position and has an extraordinary amount of speed," Entwistle said. "Her and Hunter hooked up for most of our goals and they always knew where the other one was on the field."
It would have been an even better season for Francis Howell had Francis Howell North not gotten in the Vikings' way.
But that's soccer, and Howell North had to fight tooth-and-nail to beat the Vikings in a pair of one-goal games and dispatch them in the district final.
While the Vikings had their sights set on a district title, they still had a productive season and were the conference's other offensive powerhouse with 71 goals scored on the year. They finished the year ranked fifth among STLhighschoolsports.com large schools.
Senior Julie Mooney led the way with 15 goals and a conference-high 14 assists and was named the conference's co-player of the year.
"One of the great things is that Julie Mooney (was) healthy this year," Howell coach Janet Muehling said earlier this season. "She wasn't healthy last year and had a knee injury that required surgery. Her and Melanie (Hunt) ... improve our offense."
Senior midfielders Hunt and Ally Rodriguez were Howell's other two first-team selections. Hunt had 10 goals including four game-winners and eight assists while Rodriguez added seven goals and three assists.