MARYLAND HEIGHTS • Kirkwood High girls soccer coach Phil Cotta is not all that concerned with the opposition these days.
“We've got another young group and, honestly, our focus at this point is on ourselves and trying to get them to play the best soccer possible,'' Cotta said following Friday's 1-0 win over Francis Howell North in the Parkway College Showcase at the Lou Fusz Soccer Complex. “The girls worked hard and they played pretty well today. Neither team had a lot of great chances, but we managed to get the goal we needed.''
The Pioneers, who followed up on a 1-0 loss to Oakville with a 2-0 win over Ladue to open the season, improved to 2-1 while Howell North, 10th in the STLhighschoolsports.com preseason rankings, fell to 3-1.
“For some reason, we just didn't come to play,'' Howell North coach Mark Olwig said. “It's disappointing because we were outworked, outhustled and outplayed. (Kirkwood) played well - they had a couple of forwards who created some chances and their backs kept us from doing a whole lot.''
Kirkwood came up with the game's lone goal in the 54th minute on a corner kick. The corner came as a result of a spectacular save from the Knights' Emily Rish, who managed to knock a point-blank shot from Kirkwood freshman Hannah Byrne over top of the goal.
On the ensuing corner from sophomore Kellie Koob, the ball found its way to sophomore center midfielder Molly Schoch at the top of the box.
“It went over one of their defenders and I was able volley,'' Schoch said when asked about her first varsity goal. “I thought it might go over the top, but it ended up off the cross bar and into the corner. We knew this would be a very competitive game and that we'd really have to work hard. I thought we played well as a team all over the field and came away with a big win.''
Kirkwood's Noogie Griggs created a decent early chance with a strong run from the right side. But her pass across the box failed to reach any teammates. Later in the half, the Pioneers tested Rish with an outside shot from Emmy Niece and another low shot from Izzy Marten.
Howell North nearly caught a break when Kirkwood keeper Kaylee Williams mis-kicked a clearing attempt well outside the penalty area. But teammate Lucy Rau hustled back to clear the ball from danger.
In the second half, after Kirkwood went up, Howell North's Bailey North managed to battle her way behind the Pioneers defense, but North wasn't able to get a whole lot on the shot as Williams came up with the save to preserve the shutout victory.
“That was kind of the story of the game for us,'' Olwig said. “Our shots, our passes, we just didn't seem real sharp today.''
Cotta hopes the early-season win can boost his young squad.
“It should definitely help our confidence,'' he said. “We had a tough off season. Our program lost seven players, including three from the varsity, to ACL injuries and had a couple of other girls decide not to come out. But that's created more playing time for some other players and they're making the most of it.''
Both teams have another Parkway Showcase match on Saturday. Howell North takes on Carbondale at 11 a.m., with Kirkwood and Jacksonville, Ill., squaring off in a 12:45 p.m. contest.
“A great thing about high school soccer is there's no time for celebrating or for feeling sorry for yourself because there's always that next game to prepare for,'' Olwig said. “That's what we talked about in our meeting after the game. Hopefully we can learn from this, build on it, and get better because of it.''