MAHOMET – Two significant team statistics followed Mahomet-Seymour girls’ soccer into Monday’s nonconference match at Dunlap.
First, the one that gains the most headlines.
Coach Jeremy Davis’ Bulldogs were averaging seven goals per match prior to a 3-2 loss versus the Eagles. Davis’ bunch scored at least six goals in 11 of its first 14 matches and boasted a 14-0 record as a result.
Then there’s the opposite side of that coin. It puts M-S’s defense and goaltending on display. To the tune of six total goals allowed across those initial 14 matches.
“I thought we’d be strong,” Davis said. “I didn’t think we’d be that strong.”
How does senior goalie Grace Larson assess the subject?
“I honestly kind of was (expecting it),” she said, “because we had most of our line back the same. I was very confident in the abilities of those (athletes) we still had. ”
Those backliners have just as much of a stake in the Bulldogs’ dominance through March and April as the girls who deposit the ball in the opposing net.
Do senior Cayla Koerner’s 50 goals and 29 assists, senior Brea Benson’s 15 goals and 23 assists, senior Lauren Schnepper’s 11 goals and junior Emma Dallas’ eight goals create more buzz?
Probably, for most soccer fans.
But the 11 shutouts logged by M-S’s defensive unit is also a major factor in the Bulldogs earning a No. 1 seed in the upcoming Class 2A postseason, on top of them boasting a 16-1 record that includes an Apollo Conference regular-season title.
“We all just really wanted to prove it … to ourselves that we’re capable of doing the hard things as a team and working together,” Larson said. “(Our defenders’) ability to hold the line, communicate, get the ball out when we need to, they’re still doing a great job of that year.”
Carrying the defensive load for MS in front of Larson is the quartet of senior Grace Lietz and juniors Janel Straub, Kallie Stutsman and Abigail Bunting. Sophomore Nadia Biegler also contributes from the midfield.
Biegler is the younger sister of 2021 MS graduate Nyah Biegler, the most recent News-Gazette All-Area girls’ soccer Player of the Year and an anchor in the midfield.
“One of the questions was with Nyah leaving last year. How much would that hurt us? ” Davis said. “Our mids have done a pretty good job.”
Bunting previously was a starting midfielder for Davis, but the third-year MS coach shifted Bunting to defense to capitalize on her status as a “banger.”
“She does great in possession. She’s real big and physical on the basketball team, ”Davis said. “Her off-the-ball movement is pretty excellent. She’s great with the ball at her foot. ”
Davis said Straub, Stutsman and Lietz all bring a speed element to the back end.
“Between (Straub) and Kallie, you’re going to have a hard time finding people that beat them in a footrace,” Davis said. “Kallie’s done a great job this year winning more balls out of the air. That was never really a strength of hers. That’s the growth you want to see out of a center back. ”
When the Bulldogs desire having four defenders in front of Larson, Lietz offers “versatility” that Davis said allows her to become the fourth stopper.
“At this point we’re pretty able to change how we’re playing, what gives us a better matchup against (an opponent’s) strikers,” Davis said. “We have a real good mix of physicality and speed.”
Then there’s Larson, who saw starting goaltender minutes as a freshman during the 2019 season.
Larson said a fair chunk of her improvement on the pitch pertains to the mental side of the sport.
“I was very soft-spoken my freshman year because it was kind of scary with the upperclassmen. They should be bossing me around. I shouldn’t be barking commands at them, ”Larson said. “But it’s started to come more naturally to me.
“I feel like (my teammates) have helped me push myself to be the best leader I can try to be, to be more outspoken and really encourage more of the underclassmen to work hard in the preseason.”
Davis felt Larson delivered “her best game of the year,” on April 18, when MS knocked off Rochester 3-2. It was a rematch of last season’s 2A sectional semifinal match between the sides, which the Rockets won 4-0.
The Bulldogs trailed 1-0 early in April’s match. Larson, however, has been “building up my mental headspace” in order to lessen the negative impact of such situations.
“If we are down in a game, I need to think, ‘I can’t be hard on myself’ and need to encourage my team,” Larson said. “I am one of the only people who can see the whole field. I’ve gotten to grow as a soccer player because I get to see how the (other) team plays. ”
Davis noted Larson possesses three offensive assists. Not a typical figure for a goalkeeper. Larson actually got the chance to play the field in Wednesday’s senior night victory versus Taylorville and scored a goal.
“Her distribution has been real good, too, passing the ball out of the back. We’ve been able to work possessions starting with her, ”Davis said. “One of the biggest things we’ve liked about Grace is she’s pretty decisive. She doesn’t have your stereotypical height (5-foot-3), but she makes decisions that make her play bigger. ”
Larson and her cohorts realize regular-season success isn’t the Bulldogs’ end goal, of course.
They’re hoping to give the program its first-ever sectional championship – at least – this month. The postseason journey starts May 18 with a 4:30 pm regional semifinal match against Lincoln in Bloomington.
“We’ve been playing pretty good so far together, especially when we’ve been coming into our harder competition,” Larson said. “We’re all driven for what we want to accomplish this season.”