MARYLAND HEIGHTS • Dave Aronberg was thrilled.
The Ladue High girls soccer coach was all smiles and positive vibes after the Rams took on Class 3 contender Webster Groves. Energy and enthusiasm emanated from Aronberg.
“Our girls are starting to believe. With this team it's all about confidence,” Aronberg said. “That's about as good a 2-0 loss as you can have.”
That's right. Webster Groves scored twice in the first 12 minutes of the match to beat Ladue 2-0 Friday at the 14th Parkway College Showcase at Lou Fusz Soccer Complex.
The match had all the makings of a blowout. The No. 4 large school in the STLhighschoolsports.com rankings, Webster Groves (7-0) dominated possession and put Ladue (3-3-1) on its heels.
Sophomore Jacqueline Baetz sent a corner kick into the box and junior forward Emma Lieb caught it clean with her head for an impressive finish in the eighth minute.
Three minutes later, senior midfielder Cami Unger moved just past the midfield line and played a long ball up to senior forward Allie Thomas. Thomas leaned in to push the ball forward with her head, took another touch and buried the breakaway chance, giving the Statesmen an easy and early 2-0 lead.
That was the peak of Webster's play. Ladue settled in and challenged the Statesmen in ways they had yet to be challenged this season. It caught Webster off guard.
“I think it was the first time we've been really challenged by putting pressure on us,” Unger said. “It was a different feel I guess since we haven't played like that our entire season yet.”
Webster coach Chris Allen gave a tip of the cap to Ladue and praised the Rams efforts. However, he felt his team's play left something to be desired.
“I think we scored two early and collectively our kids leveled down,” Allen said. “We've been really working hard to find our level and keep our level up and it's a lot of credit to Ladue. They are so well prepared.”
Aronberg said his team wanted to force Webster to play a more direct style. The Statesmen like to play keep away and possess the ball for long stretches. The Rams hoped to speed Webster up and felt they succeeded.
“We know they're so good at possessing, so we tried to get them to the sideline and close the game and make them play more direct because they don't want to do that,” Aronberg said. “And take our chances on counterattacks.”
The Rams had only a handful of chances, most of which came in the second half into the wind. Their best chance came off a free kick just outside the box. Webster lined up its wall, but left junior midfielder Claire Peterson all alone on the right side. The ball was quickly played her way and she was in one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but mishit her strike and the ball sailed well out of play.
Webster ran its shutout streak to six consecutive matches. Goalkeepers Charlotte Kennedy and Megan McClure each played a half in Friday's shutout.
It's a point of pride for the Statesmen and their backline to keep that streak alive. The offense gets much of the glory on the pitch, but the defensive backfield is where many matches are won and lost.
“I think it really is important to us. It really shows what we can do,” senior center back Peyton Beck said. “The forwards' job is to score goals and you can't really lose if you don't let one in.”
The Statesmen are strong across the field with talent up front, in the middle and in the back. But to maximize their abilities, Allen wants to see them consistently play at a high level. He felt that was not the case in Wednesday's match with Lindbergh and again on Friday.
“Our level of play went down today the more the game went on. We were just not doing the stuff we're capable of doing,” Allen said. “It's not about winning and losing. These are just practice games. They really are at the end of the day.”
There is plenty of time for the Statesmen to work out their kinks, but Allen is not leaving anything to chance.
“We have practice at 8 a.m. tomorrow and we're going to get after it,” he said. “We're going to get this right.”