Last spring, Lee’s Summit North’s Gianna Palmentere got to be a part of something special.
During her senior year, her Broncos made it the Class 4 state championship game before falling to Eureka to take second overall.
It still was a great year for North, which made it past the sectional round for the first time since 2012, defeating rival St. Teresa’s Academy.
Palmentere didn’t get to experience the sweet taste of a championship with North, but she and three other local high school graduates have the chance to be a part of something spectacular. The No. 1 overall seed University of Central Missouri women’s soccer team plays Augustana in the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament at 1 p.m. Sunday at the South Recreation Complex in Warrensburg.
“It’s an adjustment coming onto a game that is extremely talented,” Palmentere said. “It really pushes you to be better.”
Palmentere along with Blue Springs South graduates Mallory Kroencke and Emily Griffin and William Chrisman grad Jordyn Atagi have been a part of a team that has rarely been challenged in the 2017 season.
The Jennies have defeated their opponents by a combined score of 76-3.
“Our seniors have definitely set the tone this season,” Griffin said. “They have really helped make this a special year.”
Added Atagi: “It’s been pretty unreal. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that it’s not UCM soccer doing this but it’s us making UCM soccer do this.”
The Jennies are the first team in school history to finish 21-0 in the regular season and to have 12 consecutive shutouts.
“We’re really happy about the season, but we’re not done yet,” Griffin said.
The Central Missouri defense has been ridiculous, recording 18 shutouts, an .857 shutout percentage, an 0.14 goals-against average and a .957 save percentage that leads all of NCAA Division II this season. The offense has also been good, ranking third in Division II with 3.62 goals per game.
“The chemistry has been so good on this team,” Kroencke said. “We all connected right off the bat and it’s shown on the field.”
Griffin, a junior, has moved between defender and forward after playing offense her entire career. It’s been an adjustment, but it’s something she now feels comfortable with.
“It took some used to playing in the back instead of up top,” said Griffin, who has one goal this season. “With the help of my teammates and coaches, they helped me become the defender that I am.”
Palmentere and Kroencke, both freshmen, have been used off the bench to contribute to an aggressive style of offense that requires a lot of pressuring of the opponent’s back line.
“If you get an opportunity to go into the game, our coach expects us to have high energy,” Palmentere said. “He knows the forwards can’t be perfect and make mistakes, but he expects you to make those mistakes going 100 miles per hour. We have to press the back line. I am still defending even though I’m a forward.”
Atagi has been the backup goalkeeper to first-team All-American Ana Dilkes, who has been breaking school records left and right. For Atagi, it’s been a great learning experience playing behind the talented junior.
“She’s shown me what a college competitor looks like,” Atagi said of Dilkes. “After three years of playing together, we really push each other. It’s been really cool.”
Going into the tournament, the Jennies are the clear favorite. Palmentere, Atagi, Griffin and Kroencke feel good about the team’s chances.
“Our energy is high and we’re confident,” Griffin said. “We’re not like, ‘Oh, we’re undefeated, we can beat anyone.’ We’re here to play our game. This is the best team I’ve been a part of.”