An undefeated season is never easy.
Add a few other achievements on the line for Notre Dame de Sion soccer on Saturday — including a third straight state title and maintaining the No. 1 ranking in the USA Today Super 25 national poll — and a state championship game becomes bigger.
But the Sion Storm couldn’t overcome an early offensive attack in the second half and fell to Webster Groves from St. Louis 2-1 in the Missouri Class 3 girls state soccer final at Swope Soccer Village.
As the final whistle blew, Sion players dipped their heads in exhaustion from the heat and disappointment as the realization of falling one game short of a perfect run through the spring sunk in. Notre Dame de Sion fnished the season 23-1.
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“Losing’s never easy, but when you feel like you could have won it’s even tougher,” Sion coach Matt Darby said.
The Storm was in control of possession and scoring opportunities, outshooting Webster Groves 17-5 for the match.
Following several great chances for goals before halftime, Webster Groves came out aggressive, and Isabella Heintz cleaned up a goal near the net 2 minutes into the second half, giving Webster Groves the lead.
Sion was given another huge chance when one of the Webster Groves players was sent off with a red card with 33 minutes left.
Webster Groves, however, stayed tenacious with one less player and managed to bang home another goal, this one by Gretchen Skoglund.
“At that point, it just becomes get your first (goal),” Darby said. “It’s tough when you are pushing and pushing, and you have to get a goal.”
Another essential component for Sion was losing senior and two-time captain Zoe Trouve to an ACL tear in Friday’s semifinals win over Washington.
Yet the Storm finally did get their first score when Gabbi Grimaldi hit a low burner toward Webster Groves goalie Megan McClure that bounced off McClure and into the goal with 22 minutes left.
After that, Webster Groves packed in the defense to avoid a late goal from the Storm. McClure kept making big saves.
“It almost becomes like a half-court game of soccer,” Darby said. “And in a free flowing game of the first half, just chance, after chance, after chance. When you have to push to get a goal, and they know that, and they’re defending there’s not as much space to play, and you add on that goalkeeper it just gets harder.”
Now, the Storm will soak up and enjoy the three-year run that led to all the success, and learn from the hard-fought match, a lesson for the returning players to strive be in the same position for 2018.
“For the girls coming back, it is about remembering the moment,” Darby said. “They had a great season. I think that’s the first time we’d been at a deficit all year when they scored. You hate that it happened in the championship game. You’d rather have it happen three weeks ago and learn from it, but we’ll come back.”