ALTON, Ill. • The Fort Zumwalt South girls soccer team walked into Public School Stadium on Saturday and left with not only the championship trophy from the Alton Invitational but also a commanding 2-0 win over Alton Marquette.
The Bulldogs combined a relentless offensive attack with a stingy defense to whitewash the Explorers.
“We were just rock solid today, getting everything done when we needed to do it,” Zumwalt South goalkeeper Lauren Breshears said. “It was good to win this. It (the win) says a lot, considering who they are.”
Early on, it looked as if was going to be Zumwalt South’s day against a defending Illinois state championship team.
The Zumwalt South tandem of Bridget Stewart and Taylor Wade peppered Alton Marquette goalkeeper Haley Hopkins but came away with nothing to show for it in a scoreless half.
The best chance by either side in the opening 40 minutes came from Stewart as she got past Hopkins and pinged the left post before Alton Marquette’s Cassie McFadden came back to clear the ball away from danger.
“It was (frustrating),” said Stewart of the near miss. “Once we start getting opportunities like that, though, I know I have just got to keep pushing.”
All the pushing by the Zumwalt South offense and specifically Stewart finally paid off in the second half.
With just over 25 minutes to play, Wade sent a long ball into the Explorers’ end that got to Stewart, who weaved around the oncoming rush from Hopkins and blasted the ball into the gaping net for the 1-0 lead.
“I was just thinking ‘don’t mess it up’,” said Stewart of her chance at the open goal. “That’s all I thought there.”
Stewart doubled both her goal total and the team’s lead just over two minutes later at the 22:07 mark when she received another pass from Wade deep in Alton Marquette's end.
This time she blasted a shot from the top of the Alton Marquette penalty area past Hopkins and into the net.
“We have just been playing really controlled soccer this season,” Bulldogs coach Vernon Gano said. “Even when we’ve let down, we just haven’t let down enough to let the other team get into the game on us.”
The biggest letdown for Zumwalt South (13-4) was arguably on an Alton Marquette possession with just under a minute left to play.
Alton Marquette’s Caroline Hoefert ripped a shot from the right side that got past Breshears and clanged off the right post before it was cleared away.
“They (the defense) saved my butt a couple of times,” laughed Breshears.
Explorers coach Rob Moginot found the Bulldogs' strength no laughing matter.
“Their defense was very good,” he said of South. “They’re quick, they’re physical and we had a tough time getting around them.”
Each team had a handful of players make the all-tournament team.
Players who made the team from Alton Marquette (8-5) were McFadden, Hoefert, and Danielle Huber.
Zumwalt South was represented on the all-tournament team by Stewart, Jordan Meier, and Molly White.
The victory was sweet for Gano, as it brought back comparisons to another talented Bulldogs squad.
“We won this the first year I was coach here, six years ago,” Gano said. “It feels really good to bring a strong team in here and to win an event like this against very good competition.”
In other games at the tournament Saturday, Mascoutah defeated Orchard Farm 2-1 to capture fifth place behind a pair of Mika Reid goals, while Alexis Robbers scored the lone goal for the Eagles. Reid and Robbers also were both on the all-tournament team.
In the third place game, Zumwalt East defeated Belleville East 3-1.