With many key players returning, the Union soccer Lady ’Cats are looking for another successful season this spring.

Union went 26-3-1 last season while winning the Four Rivers Conference title. 

The Lady ’Cats advanced all the way to the MSHSAA Class 3 state tournament in Kansas City, finishing fourth for the second year in a row.

As of right now, the only thing which has hampered Union has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which has halted practices and games. It is hoped the team will be able to play this season.

Union did not play at a jamboree last Friday.

Head Coach Matt Fennessey is back for his 11th season in charge of the team. During his tenure, Fennessey has won the Four Rivers Conference title during all 11 seasons and has captured five district titles in nine championship game appearances. 

Fennessey feels his team learned quite a bit from last year.

“I think our team last year learned a lot,” Fennessey said. “We had a lot of growing going on last year. Our girls were able to get a little more postseason play underneath their belt. We were also able to compete with some higher-level teams. The hope is this year we can continue that.”

Fennessey said the program has toughened up its nonconference schedule to prepare for the harder games in the postseason.

Union has been assigned to Class 3 District 9 along with Washington, Pacific and Rolla.

The season opener for Union will be decided at a later date once teams are allowed back.

“We are always looking to improve our schedule,” Fennessey said. “Playing in the Parkway Showcase, adding Ursuline, playing Notre Dame de Sion, Webster Groves, Washington, and adding Eureka and Columbia, Ill., to our tournament, all are going to make our team stronger.” 

Fennessey reported 33 girls came out for the team and all 33 have been kept between the varsity and JV teams.

With only three players lost to graduation, competition for playing time should be fierce.

Graduating last year were Addie Davis, Ella Keltner and Gigi Gore. Keltner was a defender while Davis and Gore were midfielders.

“We are still looking for the right fit to fill those shoes,” Fennessey said. “As a coaching staff, we feel like we have the players in the program. We just have to find what is going to work best for the team.”

That means a number of starters are back.

The returner who will attract the most attention is junior forward Emily Gaebe. She paced the St. Louis area in scoring last year with 51 goals and 18 assists.

Senior Hannah Olive, who was in goal for all 27 games last spring, is back. She had a 0.58 GAA and posted 21 shutouts.

Top returning defenders include senior Erika Toelke and junior Emma Cloud. Cloud contributed nine goals and 21 assists last spring.

Senior Sami Starling, who recently committed to East Central College’s new team, also is expected to see increased playing time.

In the midfield and at wing positions, several players return, including senior Grace Weiss, senior Hailey Cloud, junior Kaylee Simpson, junior Kaitlyn Hobson and sophomore Logan Baeres. 

Hailey Cloud has signed with Arkansas State. She was second on the team in scoring last year with 20 goals and 16 assists. Simpson scored 11 times with three assists. Baeres had seven goals and five assists and was crucial in Union’s run to the state tournament.

Joining Gaebe up front is sophomore Maliyah Minor, who scored 11 times last fall and added nine assists.

Maddie Helling, unfortunately, is out for the season due to a knee injury suffered during the basketball season. She can play midfield or defense and contributed six goals and 10 assists last spring.

Sophie Eagan, a sophomore, is expected to see more playing time this season. Along with Hailey Cloud, she’s a two-sport spring athlete. Both were state qualifiers in track.

Junior Reagan Rapert has proven to be a standout in softball and basketball so far. She’s new to the sport, but Fennessey feels she can be successful.

Freshman Addison Williford is another player who could break through for significant playing time this season.

“I’m looking forward to a very positive year with these kids,” Fennessey said. “We have a very good group of girls, both junior varsity and varsity, this year.”

Noah Assareh returns for his 10th season as an assistant coach. He also leads the JV team.

Brady Weinhold and Bridget Klenke both are back as volunteer assistant coaches.