The Rolla girls soccer team had an impressive season. The Lady Bulldogs were undefeated within the Ozark Conference to take home the conference crown and finished with a record of 15-5-1.
The conference championship is the biggest takeaway from the season for head coach Mike Howard.
"I'm obviously thrilled that we went undefeated and won the Ozark Conference Championship, which I think is an extremely difficult thing to do," said Howard. "Kickapoo has a great team every year and Glendale, obviously, and there are places that are tough to play. Camdenton is always hard to play at, Waynesville is always hard to play at. So to go undefeated, I'm very proud of our group for that."
That undefeated run was led by a stellar season class. The trio of Addy Brow, Morgan Gabriele and Olivia Gonzales were an offensive force to be reckoned with this season. Brow scored 20 goals with 12 assists on her way to an Ozark Conference Player of the Year award. She got a lot of help from Gabriele who scored 18 goals and had 14 assists, many of which were to Brow. Gonzales chipped in 10 goals and six assists of her own. Michelle Kean locked things down defensively to earn the conference's Defensive Player of the year honors.
"I think they went 34-2 in conference in their four years of high school soccer and five of them played varsity all four years, so they had a lot of success," said coach Howard. "I'm happy for them for that, they deserve it."
That senior class won a lot of games for Rolla and they were a lot of fun for Howard to coach.
"They've won a lot of games, but they've also won some District Championships. All in all, it was a great four years. It was fun to coach them," said Howard. "Can't really say too many bad things about it, it was just a fun experience. Hopefully they enjoyed it as well."
The only hitch that Rolla really ran into all season was Union. The Lady Bulldogs faced them twice and lost both times, including in their District opener.
"I just think it's a horrible matchup for us. They're very physical and very fast. We have some speed, but we're hiding a lot of places out there where we don't have speed and Union had it all over the field," said the Rolla head coach. "That was very difficult for us to deal with. And then they just win, or at least challenge, for every 50/50 ball. It's just a difficult matchup for us when we play them.
Howard continued, "That last game was rough, I'm not really sure what happened. The wheels just kind of came off with about 12 minutes left. It was 2-1 and we still had a chance then a total collapse in the last 12 minutes, but still a good season."
Coach Howard hopes their matchups with Union will be a learning experience, especially for their returning players.
"I think that losing in Districts like that is not something we're used to, we're normally at least playing in a District Championship game. So to not even play in it this year is tough for everybody," said Howard. "Hopefully we can have a good regular season, win those games we need to win to get a good seed. It's tough when you lose the only District game you're gonna play all season and you end up getting a three seed when you're 15-4. It is what it is, we knew going into that we needed to win that game, but we didn't get it done."
While the senior class gets a lot of well-deserved attention this season, they weren't the only ones contributing to the season. Rolla had several players that were brought into the fold for the first season that made huge strides throughout the season.
"You start in the back and I think Kelly Cates every game got better and better. Most of the goals, almost all of the goals, were not her fault. She did a great job for us replacing Katie Hudson," said Howard. "Carlee McCormick on the back line as a sophomore is about as good as anybody I've ever had back there. She does an outstanding job, as well. Kate Mallery came in as a freshman and earned starting time, Ellie Rodgers played a lot as well. They did a good job for us. Elsa Wise, as the season went on, improved a great deal also. We've got some people coming back next year and we should be okay."
Coach Howard said he didn't feel any particular pressure to force young players into the lineup, but at the same time he new he had to prepare those young players to take over for talented seniors in several spots.
"I don't know that there was any pressure, but you certainly want to give them as much playing time as possible so that next year they're ready to step in and play," said Howard. "Elsa's gonna have to move up top, that'll be one of our two forwards next year. I don't know who the other one will be yet. Maybe Ellie Rodgers, but we'll have to see."
At the end of the day, Rolla fell short of some of their season goals, but still hit several of them on their way to a great season. While they fell short of a District Championship, you can't overlook an undefeated record in the Ozark Conference. The Lady Bulldogs will look to retool and start that journey again fresh next spring.