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Saxony girls soccer takes third in first trip to final four since 2016

The Saxony Lutheran girls soccer team poses with the Class 1 Third Place plaque after defeating Bishop LeBlond 2-1 on Saturday at World Wide Technology Soccer Park in Fenton. Photo by Nick McNeal

In the program’s first trip to the state final four since winning it all back in 2016, the Saxony Lutheran girls soccer team ended up taking home the Class 1 third-place plaque this weekend at the World Wide Technology Soccer in Fenton.

To start the final four in the semifinals on Friday, the Crusaders (13-9) suffered a 4-0 loss to eventual Class 1 runner-ups Villa Duchesne (10-12-1) in a game where the Saints scored a goal off not one, but two penalty kicks. Villa Duchesne went on to lose the Class 1 State Championship Game 1-0 to Father Tolton (18-8-1) the next day.

Saxony bounced back after that shutout loss to Villa Duchesne, though, and ended its historic season with a 2-1 win over Bishop LeBlond (14-7) in the third-place match Saturday morning.

“We just battled — everybody contributed and got to experience the final four at some point during one of the days, and they did their job,” Saxony head coach Chris Crawford said. “We talked at the very beginning of the season if our depth was going to be our greatest asset or our greatest weakness.

“We never had a problem with chemistry issues and people were constantly competing for playing time. If they weren’t playing, they were supporting their teammates, and you have to have that if you want to get to this point of the season. Otherwise, you’re in trouble.”

Producing the Crusaders goals were a pair of sophomores in forward Abby Haley and Maggie Hillin, who are no strangers to competing at the state level. Back in the fall as members of the tennis team, Haley and Hillin qualified for the Class 1 State Tournament as a doubles team and took seventh place to earn all-state honors.

On the pitch in the Class 1 third-place match, Haley drew first blood by recording the opening score of the match with an unassisted goal in the 37th minute.

Saxony maintained a 1-0 lead over Bishop LeBlond for the remainder of the first half and nearly six minutes of the second until the Golden Eagles answered at the 45-minute mark. Despite giving up this goal, Crusaders junior goalkeeper Grace Ozark recorded three saves in the match and had a total of nine throughout the final four.

The game was tied for 14 minutes after Bishop Le-Blond’s goal until Saxony junior Annie Adams dished out her 11th and final assist of the season to Hillin, who shot the ball in from 15 yards out for what would be the game-winning goal in the 59th minute.

Funny enough, neither Haley or Hillin actually started for the Crusaders as this was Abby’s first season of playing high school soccer. Therefore, both of Saxony’s goals were scored off the bench, which is a true testament to the team’s depth.

“They’re both sophomores and it’s both their first years of playing in our program,” Coach Crawford said. “They come to practice and work hard. Abby is an absolute monster — she’s fast and still figuring out how to shoot. She literally started playing soccer the first day this year.

“Maggie played in the past and came back to us. She’s as smooth as can be and came up huge after going down earlier in the season. That was a huge loss for us, and we had to really adapt to that because she was a starter. I’m really proud of both of them, but I’m really proud of all of them.”

Even though she didn’t score a goal in the state final four, Adams finished in a four-way tie for most shots on goal at two throughout for the third-place match.

Also applying pressure to no one’s surprise were the Crusaders two other leading goal scorers in sophomore forwards Camille Richey (12 goals) and Faith Dreyer (nine). Junior midfielders Clara Brune and Katie Swain also each recorded one shot on goal apiece.

“Third-place games are hard to get up for because you have the disappointment of not getting to play for a state championship, but you’re still playing for a place,” Coach Crawford said. “We talked about coming up and if we’re not getting two wins, we’re at least getting one. We did that today.”

In the semifinal matchup, Adams was the only player for Saxony to record a shot on goal as she registered a total of two shots as did Richey. Camille led the way in shots for the third-place game as Dreyer paced her with three of her own. Brune also had one shot versus Villa Duchesne.

Hoping to build off third-place finish in Class 1, the Crusaders will return nine of their 11 starters for the 2024 season in Adams, Brune, Dreyer, Ozark, Richey, junior defenders Maci Hollis, Mallory Kohlfeld, Payton Meier and sophomore defender Isabel Brown.

The only two starters Saxony loses to graduation are seniors defender Anna Mueller and midfielder Ava Perry, who both missed their freshman season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

After suffering back-to-back sub .500 seasons as sophomores and juniors, Mueller and Perry helped the Crusaders win their third district championship in program history and, of course, reach state for the first time in seven years this spring.

“We knew 2021 [when we finished 4-15 overall] was going to be tough, but we knew what we had, though, as far as what we were going to build into,” Coach Crawford said. “That takes a whole community — it takes the parents believing in the coaches when you’re getting blasted by everyone in the area and not throwing a fit. Those kids showed up everyday even though they just got their butt kicked all season long.”

While also being at the helm for Saxony’s boys soccer team, this is the third overall trip to the state final four Coach Crawford has made since taking over both programs in the 2016-17 school year. He was an assistant back when the Crusaders girls team won back-to-back state championships in 2015 and 2016.

“When I started coaching with Garrett [Fritsche] in 2015 when we had a special group of juniors and seniors, yesterday when I came off the field the Brunes were here and my phone had multiple messages from different alumni,” Crawford said.

“It’s one of those things where we tell them, ‘You don’t get just four years here. If you need something, you know how to get ahold of us. We’ll do whatever we can within reason to help you out.’ It’s pretty cool to have some alumni here even though they’re family and to hear from them that they’re still following the program.”

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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