By Will Simmons

Mattoon returns two high-scoring veterans, but it was a relative varsity newcomer who kickstarted the team’s 3-0 victory over Mt. Zion on Monday evening in the St. Teresa girls soccer tournament in Decatur.

Senior Faith Niebrugge and junior Lily Ghere scored 43 and 39 goals, respectively, last season

“Lily and Faith are, you know, they’re just always around the goal,” Mattoon coach Ryan Ghere said. “That’s their job.”

However, it was Piper Sanders, a sophomore midfielder, who came up with the first goal. 

Freshman midfielder Bella Masse had caught up with a well aimed pass from Niebrugge in the near corner and made a beautiful far-post cross, where sophomore forward Evie Bell, was there for the header that fell in front of the goal line. Niebrugge made contact and deflected the ball off an opponent’s shin to Sanders’ foot. Sanders, who was at the edge of the goal box, only needed one touch to put it in the lower-left corner .

Sanders, who mostly played forward last year on the JV squad, impressed her coach with the team’s first score of 2022.

“I thought Piper played outstanding,” Coach Ghere said. “The best varsity game she’s ever played.”

The Green Wave went into the half with a goal lead. Even though the ball remained in the opponent’s part of the field for most of the time, Ghere said  he thought they were not as aggressive as they could have been. But the team, he said, improved their game as the match went on.

Niebrugge added a second goal 20 minutes into the second half.  insurance goal, which she popped, cross-goal into the back left corner of the net from 15 yards out after a throw-in.

Niebrugge, who said her nerves got to her, gave herself and teammates a little breathing room with the second goal.

“I felt like I was playing better in the second half,” she said. “So after that goal, I think we just kind of got our energy up.”

In the preceding game, Charleston gave up four goals before halftime in a 6-0 loss to Pleasant Plains, which controlled the tempo most of the game. The Trojans allowed a Cardinals direct shot on goal within the first 90 seconds. The Trojans also struggled at times with throw-ins and set pieces.

Trojans coach Ali Gowin said her players had difficulty finding space and connecting passes, but she saw a noticable improvement in the second half of this season opener.

“The second half, we stepped up a little more communication-wise and, also, just working more as a unit, as a team,” Gowin said. “We just got some new girls and some girls playing in new spots, so just figuring out our new roles on the team.”

The Trojans will next play Mt. Zion at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday to determine which team advances to the consolation final.

Meanwhile, the Green Wave will face Pleasant Plains at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday. That winner will advance to the championship game set for Saturday..

“We’re gonna have to be better, you know  We got to see the second half and (Pleasant Plains) is a really good passing team,” Ghere said. “They control the ball, you know, and they don’t panic with the ball and they play it a little bit quicker paced.”