Since Missouri high school girls soccer began back in 1985, only one player has ever been named the player of the year in their class three times, and that is Saxony Lutheran senior midfielder Emma Brune.
The Southeast Missouri State signee has recorded a total of 227 points with 90 goals and 47 assists in her first three years with the Crusaders, whom have yet to win a Class 1 District 1 Championship and advance to the final four since 2016.
Saxony won back-to-back Class 1 state titles in 2015 and 2016 before Brune’s freshman year as her older sister Maddie helped lead the team to win the last championship. Maddie suffered an injury in 2015, but she was named the Class 1 Player of the Year and led the Crusaders to a second-straight state title in 2016.
Since then, Saxony has yet to advance past the district finals by falling to St. Vincent in the title game for the last three years. After defeating the Crusaders for a district championship, St. Vincent went on to win the Class 1 title in 2017 and 2018, but fell to Duchesne in last year’s state final.
The last two games between Saxony and St. Vincent for the district title have ended in the final seconds. Last year’s contest went into overtime as the Indians scored the game-winning goal with 15.7 seconds left after Brune tied the game in regulation with a hat trick.
“My expectation [for this season] is that we’re going to compete everyday in practice and get better,” Saxony head coach Chris Crawford said. “We lost a lot last year to graduation, but we also had a lot of people getting their first high school season under their belt. From what I’ve seen so far, they’ve made leaps and bounds.”
On top of it being Brune’s fourth and final season leading Saxony, it will also be fellow senior Makayla Mueller’s last ride with the Crusaders, who has been named Class 1 All-State three times as well.
“Mak is another one of those work horses,” Coach Crawford said. “We’ve been blessed to have talented kids, but we’ve gotten a lot of kids that are just able to play a lot of minutes and never stop. Her engine never stops, and I won’t ever tell her this to her face, but she’s a pest. Not to me but to other teams because she doesn’t stop. If there’s a ball, she’s going to go get it, and she doesn’t care what she has to do to get it.”
Mueller finished as the team’s third-leading scorer with 15 points last season as she recorded three goals, while dishing out nine assists, which was second behind Brune’s 14.
Brune was the only Crusader to have double-digit goals and assists last season as she recorded a single-season, career-high 35 goals. As a sophomore, Brune recorded 30 goals along with a career-high 20 assists.
Along with being named the Class 1 Player of the Year and earning all-state, all-region and all-conference honors for the third-straight year, Brune was also named to the United Soccer Coaches All-Central Team for the first time in her career last season.
“[Brune] is the best player in Southeast Missouri — I have no problem saying that,” Coach Crawford said. “Any class, she is the best player. The thing I’ve noticed with her is that her leadership [this year] is a lot better. She’s confident in her abilities, and she sees the field well, but I mean she’s able to do some of the things she does because of the other seniors in that class like Mueller and Spanley.”
Crawford went on to say one of the reasons why Brune has had so much success is because of how high her soccer I.Q. is. Over the years, Crawford has noticed Brune realize more and more where she needs to be on the field.
“[Brune] is like having another coach on the field I.Q. wise,” Crawford said. “There’s very few things that she doesn’t do well, but I’m not going to tell everybody those so they don’t pick on them.”
Finishing second behind Brune in both scoring and goals for Saxony last season was senior Olivia Spanley, who recorded a total of 18 points with five goals and eight assists.
This past winter, Brune, Mueller and Spanley all helped lead the girls basketball team win an eighth-straight district championship and seventh-straight sectional title.
“This senior class is special, and it’s the first one I’ve gone through all four years,” Coach Crawford said. “It’s one of those where when they were freshman they had some goals, and we haven’t hit them all yet, so we’ll be working towards that.”
Joining Spanley at forward will be a player like sophomore Bianca Scholl, who scored three goals in the 12 games she played last season. Also seeing more time at forward will be sophomore Anna Thomason, who Crawford describes as extremely fast.
Thomason’s older sister junior Abbi Thomason will also see time at forward as well as in the midfield for Saxony this season. She started four games last year and recorded one assist.
Two other players besides Brune and Mueller were named all-state in 2019 graduates Etty Soto and Cassidee Wunderlich, who were each selected to the second team as defenders.
“Etty was a work horse for us — I think the only minutes she missed all year last year was when she was receiving a really, really prestigious scholarship,” Crawford said. “Other than that, I didn’t take her off the field. That’s 80 minutes in one spot where I don’t have to worry about that person being tired, and she gave us the versatility to be able to play in the midfield.”
Wunderlich did not sign with a school before graduating from Saxony, but in December she committed to play for Kaskaskia. Coach Crawford described her as a shutdown defender when she played for the Crusaders.
“You could hear it in games we were playing, ‘Don’t attack the right side,’ because we had her as a left back,” Coach Crawford said. “When you have that, you don’t have to worry as much about everything. You’ve got one side of the field on lockdown.”
One player who will be returning to Saxony’s defense is senior Audra Steffens, who earned Class 1 Region 1 honors along with Soto and Wunderlich. Steffens has played all four years for the Crusaders, who happens to be this team’s “last line of defense,” according to Crawford.
Possibly taking over at goalkeeper will be senior Samantha Schnabel, who started two games at the position last year and made 20 saves while allowing four goals. Schnabel has played at nearly every position in her career with Saxony.
“We started her as a goalie, and then we thought she was really good in the field,” Crawford said. “We switched her to the field, and that was when Ashley Fritsche was here. She is another one of those players that is a pest, and her motor never stops. She shutout St. Pius in the semifinal round and stopped three out of five penalty kicks.”
Other players stepping up for Saxony’s defense this season will be Crusaders such as sophomore Rylea Lohmann, freshman Anna Mueller and freshman Emma Dunning.
“We need to make sure we’re all on the same page from defense all the way up and realize that we have to defend as a team and not just our back line,” Crawford said. “In the past, we’ve had some holes in our lineup because we won’t always track back, so we’re going to make sure that’s a big point of emphasis that we defend as a team and attack as a team.”