A young Blue Springs Wildcats girls soccer team snaps long drought against rival Jaguars
For a majority of the season, the Blue Springs girls soccer team has been shorthanded, often having just one or two players available to come off the bench.
Not only that, but the Wildcats are young and inexperienced and only have five upperclassmen on the varsity squad. Those factors combined with playing in arguably the toughest conference in the state, the Suburban Big Eight, they came into Tuesday’s contest against crosstown rival Blue Springs South with a 1-16 overall record and were on a 15-game losing streak.
Actually, both teams were desperate for a win as South came in at 5-13 and were on a nine-game skid.
The difference maker ended up being Blue Springs senior goalkeeper Gabby Elliott, who alertly collected many through balls from South to prevent possible shot attempts inside the penalty box and she also tallied eight crucial saves in a 2-1 victory at Peve Stadium.
“It’s been a pretty tough year, especially after not getting a season last year,” said Elliott, who has signed to play at Baker University. “It was tough coming out and losing all these games. We lost Senior Night, too. After losing the Sheridan Cup (against South earlier in the year), we really came back and pulled through.”
Blue Springs assistant coach Mike Palermo – who is filling in for head coach Shannon Cunningham because she is on maternity leave – was relieved to get a win, as well.
“We don’t even keep track of our record anymore,” he said. “We play against some of the toughest teams in the state and our conference is brutal. Being able to come out on top against your conference rival, that made our night. I am ecstatic for the girls. They played well.”
Two of Elliott’s best saves came late in the first half on back-to-back shots. She leaped to her right and upward after a high-velocity shot from South senior Jayme Opdahl was headed inside the upper left corner of the goal. The senior deflected the ball for a save, but Jaguars senior defender Victoria Meledge-Ade got the rebound and fired a shot from the left wing a few seconds later. Elliott stopped that one, too.
Elliott also made a diving save on a shot from Braylee Childers that appeared to be headed inside the right post. She allowed only one goal, in the 41st minute off a close-range shot from South freshman Gwen Maggard after she received a centering pass from junior Khaliana Garrett.
“If Gabby is not in the goal, we are probably not in the game,” Palermo said. “Tonight, I told her she couldn’t give up any (goals) but she gave up one. But we were able to get two for her.
“For the back line to only give up one goal is pretty impressive.”
Meanwhile, Elliott’s teammates provided her with enough support on offense. Freshman Caitlin Lagemann angled in a shot from the right side of the South penalty box and bounced her shot off the left post and into the goal in the 24th minute for a 1-0 lead.
“Caitlin has been a pretty consistent goal scorer for us,” Elliott said. “We haven’t had many goals this season, but Caitlin has been at the top. She’s bodying those girls in the midfield and on defense.”
Added Lagemann: “Like coach says, you are never going to score if you don’t take shots. We just take shots.”
The Wildcats (2-16, 1-12) then got their second goal off a corner kick from senior defender Payton Lewis. A 50-50 ball bounced off a Blue Springs player but senior defender Lily Queen was there to put in a sliding kick in the 34th minute to give her team a two-goal cushion.
“We have been trying to get Lily to score all season,” Elliott said. “She gets so close every time. It was really exciting to get her to actually score.”
South (5-14, 2-11) missed out on some golden opportunities to score, especially on a penalty kick from Childers late in the first half that went wide right of the goal.
With districts set to kick off next week, Blue Springs got a much-needed confidence boost as it will take on South once again in the semifinals of the Class 4 District 13 tournament at 7 p.m. Monday at South.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen (in the district semifinals on Monday), but I think it gave them confidence,” Palermo said of his players. “At least we can go into the game thinking, ‘Hey, anything is possible.’ We just have to win that game to be in the district championship, and that would be pretty cool.”