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Notre Dame girls soccer overcoming injuries with bevy of younger talent

Sophomore midfielder Lolah Wunderlich scored a game-high two goals in the Notre Dame girls soccer team’s 8-0 win over Marion (Illinois) last Wednesday evening at home. Photos by Nick McNeal

Despite currently being without two of its top players from last spring due to injuries, the Notre Dame soccer team has faired pretty well as of late and even went undefeated last week.

The Bulldogs had four matchups and only allowed one goal in the span while scoring a total of 21, which happened to include back-to-back, 8-0 shutouts.

Over the weekend, Notre Dame captured the Father Tolton Tournament Championship by beating host Father Tolton 2-1 on Friday and lastly Bishop LeBlond 3-0 Saturday.

The two Notre Dame players who are currently out with injury and no designated timetable to return are juniors forward Addison Clippard and defender Skylar Craft.

Bulldogs head coach Ryan Schweain hopes they can return for the postseason as Notre Dame is looking to win its first district championship since last winning a state in 2019.

“Every year presents its challenges, and outside of two major injuries we have a lot of kids who are just playing banged up,” Coach Schweain said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a season with this many injuries.

“This week was really good for us — it’s seemed like our communication has been a lot better and moving off the ball was a lot better. We did a lot of things right, but we still have a lot of areas we need to work on.”

In their 8-0 shutout of out-of-state Marion (Illinois) last week, the Bulldogs showcased their diversity scoring wise as seven different players found the back of the net.

Producing a game-high two goals for Notre Dame was sophomore midfielder Lolah Wunderlich, who put her own skills on display by first scoring off a precision kick and then later drilled in a lengthy goal.

“I’ve been doing it my whole life, and I kick a lot of free kicks, so I’ve got to get good at it some time,” Wunderlich said. “I’d say a lot of us played with each other in club, but we’re also a good team that doesn’t fight. We just stick together.”

Also coming up with a goal in Notre Dame’s win over Marion were fellow underclassmen sophomore forward Maya Thebeau, freshman forward Erika West, sophomore midfielder Mia Panton and freshman midfielder Kate Clippard.

Thebeau and West are currently the top-two scorers for the Bulldogs with 26 points (11 goals, four assists) and 13 points (six goals, three assists), respectively.

Notre Dame freshman forward Erika West scored a goal in the Bulldogs 8-0 shutout of Marion (Illinois) last Wednesday at home. She currently has the second-most goals for Notre Dame with six.

Another force up top for Notre Dame has been senior forward Vita Galati, who also scored a goal versus Marion and has 10 points with three goals and four assists.

Along with that, Vita has history winning a district championship with Erika West as they led the tennis team to take home a district plaque this past fall.

“Vita and Erika are just like Thebeau — they give us 100% effort every game and battle for every 50-50 ball,” Coach Schweain said. “They’re unselfish and just do a lot of little things right.”

This is Wunderlich’s second season as a starter for Notre Dame as she’s a player that never comes off the field for the Bulldogs. In her defensive midfielder position, Lolah is someone who touches the ball perhaps more than anyone on the team and currently has 11 points with four goals and three assists.

“She’s fast and is a presence — she wins a lot of the 50-50 balls coming from their backs,” Coach Schweain said. “She’s really taken to her role well.”

Notre Dame’s success in large part is because of Wunderlich having such great chemistry with her teammates and working well with fellow midfielders like juniors Cora Burford and Mya Shaffar. Cora and Mya have combined for 15 points with eight (two goals, four assists) and seven (two goals, three assists), respectively.

If one were to watch the Bulldogs soccer team, they can tell just how well Notre Dame uses the entire length of the field to outwork opposing teams because of its passing and strength in the midfield.

The Bulldogs started out the season 4-4 after their first eight games, but they’re entering the last part of the year with both steam and room for improvement.

“We started off all right this year, but we’re slowly getting in the rhythm,” Wunderlich said. “We’ve been connected really well lately, and I think we can do better. We’ve got quick wings and that’s really our strong point. Just send the ball out wide, and we’re good. We all like to take shots out wide, and we send good balls and have good assists. We keep it evenly spread.”

One player for Notre Dame that’s stepped up big in place of someone like Craft is junior Sophia Emmons. She and fellow defenders senior Rylee Britton, junior Isabella Palmer and sophomore goalkeeper Aidyn O’Daniel have led the Bulldogs to record six shutouts through 12 games.

“When Skylar was hurt, I put Sophia in the back where Skylar plays, and she’s taken to it really well,” Coach Schweain said. “She’s commanding back there and really eats up a lot of those through balls in the back.”

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

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