While the path might have been shorter, in many ways Union’s girls soccer path to the MSHSAA Class 3 Championships was more difficult this time around.
Union (26-1-1) left Thursday for Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City to prepare for its state semifinal contest against defending Class 3 champion Rockwood Summit (18-3-3) Friday at 4 p.m.
The other semifinal pits St. Dominic (24-2-1) against Kearney (20-2) Friday at 6 p.m.
This is the first time since the Class 3 District 9 Tournament that Union has had to leave Stierberger Stadium. Last year, Union played a sectional game at Glendale in Springfield, winning 3-0, and a quarterfinal in Bolivar, winning 4-0.
This year, Union scraped past Rolla in a game halted with less than four minutes to play due to an impending storm. Junior Hailey Cloud scored on a penalty kick and then assisted on senior Ella Keltner’s goal. Hannah Olive recorded the shutout in goal.
The game showed the type of resistance Union faced in the playoffs. The Lady ’Cats had beaten Rolla 10-0 earlier in the season.
The quarterfinal game was even closer. Facing Glendale, a team it had beaten in Springfield last year, 3-0, and earlier this year, 4-0, Union was held scoreless through a half. Freshman Logan Baeres, seeing additional playing time with Cloud competing in the MSHSAA Class 4 State Track and Field Meet in Washington, netted the opener with about 12 minutes to play.
Glendale drew a penalty kick not long after that and tied the contest.
The game went into overtime and Baeres struck again to lift Union into the semifinals.
The Lady ’Cats featured a strong defense throughout the season and it figures to be pressed hard in Kansas City. Additionally, Union will have to rely on its scoring depth to carry the day.
By now, everyone knows about sophomore Emily Gaebe, who leads the St. Louis area with 50 goals and 16 assists. Many teams have taken to guarding her as physically as possible and putting multiple players against her.
It will have to be someone else forcing opposing teams to spread out the defenders. Cloud has scored 20 times and her return will bring a massive boost.
Gigi Gore, Maliyah Minor and Kaylee Simpson have netted 11 goals apiece and defender Emma Cloud has nine goals, many from long range.
Union also will have to work on its setpiece play again. The Lady ’Cats scored several goals off of corner kicks through the middle part of the season.
Rockwood Summit brings a confident veteran team to Kansas City. Along with winning last year’s state title, 1-0 over Incarnate Word, the Lady Falcons also defeated Union during the last cycle they were in the same district.
Lily Schnieders is Rockwood Summit’s leading goal scorer with 20 this season while Anna Walsh tops the team in assists at 14.
Katie Nash has played nearly all of the time in goal with a 0.59 GAA.
To have a chance, Union needs to clamp down defensively. The Lady ’Cats stand a better chance of winning if they can spring Gaebe free behind the defense, or score from a corner kick.
The other semifinal pits St. Dominic against Kearney. St. Dominic is the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association Class 3 top-ranked team remaining in the playoffs. The Lady Crusaders were ranked second in the May 9 poll. Union was third while Kearney ranked fourth and Rockwood Summit was sixth.
Kearney defeated Union in last year’s third-place game.
This year’s championship game will be played Saturday at 4 p.m. The third-place game is set for noon Saturday.
For anyone looking to make the trip, there are some things to consider.
First, from Union High School, the route is at least three hours and 30 minutes. The fastest route is through Washington and up to Interstate 70. However, one needs to make sure there are no flooding issues.
For the latest information, check the MoDOT Traveler Information Page at http://traveler.modot.org/map/ and it also is available as an app for smart devices.
The other direct way is shorter. The trip down U.S. 50 cuts eight miles off the journey, but is longer by at least 13 minutes as you go through several towns. Also, the highway is only two lanes until just past Linn and again from California to Sedalia. It is open in Jefferson City as debris from last week’s tornado has been cleared, but some exits remain closed.