After narrowly losing in the Class 1 District 1 Championship game the past three seasons, 2020 was a year filled with hopes of redemption for the Saxony Lutheran girls soccer team.
The Crusaders returned key players such as the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association’s only three time player of the year in girls soccer history senior midfielder Emma Brune, fellow three-time all-state honoree senior midfielder Makayla Mueller and all-region defender Audra Steffens.
However, the coronavirus pandemic forced the Missouri High School Activities Association to cancel all postseason competition this spring — turning Saxony’s hopes for the 2020 season into thoughts of “what if.”
The Crusaders four-year head coach Chris Crawford, who was the team’s assistant when the program won state back-to-back in 2015 and 2016, believes this year’s group had what it took to be champions.
“I have 100 percent belief we would’ve ended on a win in the postseason — we would’ve won the whole thing had we had that opportunity,” Coach Crawford said. “We had the players to do it, and not anything against anybody else in Class 1, but we were there. It was our time, and there was a different sort of intensity about our group. I have no problem saying that — I’ll say it to anybody in the area that we would’ve won Class 1 this year.”
Even though it was not for the Class 1 state title, Saxony still ended this year with a win, but it came in the second and final day of the SEMO Friendlies Tournament on Friday at Jackson.
Brune, Mueller, Steffens and the Crusaders three other seniors Mackenzie Robinson, Abbey Heisserer and Sam Schnabel ended their high school career with a 5-0 shutout of conference opponent Poplar Bluff.
Leading Saxony’s offensive attack was Brune, who will continue her illustrious career at Southeast Missouri State, as she finished the game with a hat trick. Adding the other goals for the Crusaders were sophomores Bianca Scholl and Audrey Daniel, who both scored in the first half.
Robinson, who will be playing softball at Mineral Area College, filled in at goalkeeper against the Mules and came up with numerous saves in the match. Fellow seniors like Steffens and Schnabel were another key reason why the Crusaders kept Poplar Bluff out of the net by securing the backline.
“Robinson joined us at the beginning of this year, and she wanted to play goalie,” Crawford said. “She’s actually a very good goalie for having zero experience. We had an abundance of players who could play goalie at a high level this year. She picked up the game of soccer really fast, so it was like, ‘She’s really good in the goal, but she’s also very good on the field.’
“[Schnabel] won a district game last year for us and took us to overtime with the state runner-ups. Audra Steffens, in my opinion, had the chance to be the Defensive Player of the Year in Class 1. She was more fit than I had seen her because she was injury free. She basically took over the defense, and that’s something I usually have to be all over.”
Scholl scored the first goal of the match for Saxony in the 11th minute, while Brune added the Crusaders next score seven minutes later for a 2-0 lead. Daniel produced the final goal of the first half with nine minutes remaining in the first.
Right after halftime, Brune scored the final two goals of her high school career in the first five minutes of the second half for the hat trick.
“Emma and Mak [Mueller] together are a special group,” Crawford said. “Emma doesn’t do the things she does without Mak, and Mak isn’t the special player she is without Emma. Emma obviously shows up in a lot of stats — Makayla shows up to anyone who knows the game of soccer knows she’s a special player, too.
“In general, it was incredible to see them play. I knew four years ago this group was going to be special, and it just sucks to not finish though.”
In 2019, the duo of Brune and Mueller combined for a total of 99 points as Emma scored 84 (35 goals, 14 assists), while Makayla was behind her with 15 (three goals, nine assists).
On the first day of the SEMO Friendlies Tournament, the Crusaders took on reigning SEMO Conference and Class 2 State Champions Notre Dame. Saxony had to do so without the SEMO signee Brune since she had to miss the game due to conflicting schedules.
The Crusaders ended up falling to the Bulldogs in a 4-0 shutout as sophomore Allie Buchheit, freshman Anna Garner, junior Hannah Miller and junior Hannah Talley scored. Crawford said his players were timid throughout the match.
“Not to take anything away from Notre Dame, but we played timid the whole night,” Coach Crawford said. “For the first 20 minutes, it was very back and forth. The water break kind of slowed our momentum a little bit. I told the girls we had seven bad minutes in that game, and they scored three times. Their other goal was a full volley from inside the six in the upper corner, so nobody is going to stop that.”
Saxony was also without several players from the original varsity roster before the pandemic struck, so the Crusaders called up players from the class of 2024 to suit up for the tournament.
None of these to be freshman started, but a few of them like Brune’s younger sister Clara and Maci Hollis played quality minutes.
One Crusader who will be a sophomore next season, Anna Mueller, also saw quality minutes and will likely start as an outside defensive back in 2021, according to Coach Crawford. Fellow 2023 class member Anna Thomason will have a bigger role next year as well.