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FAITHFUL FAN | Girls soccer teams from Catholic schools stand out

Girls soccer teams from Catholic schools in St. Louis had a strong showing in the Missouri State High School Activities Association playoffs that ended earlier this month.

The Catholic community in St. Louis has had a long association with soccer, dating to the early days of the Catholic Youth Apostolate’s CYC sports program. Catholic clergy introduced soccer to boys who attended elementary schools in the city’s extensive network of parishes in the late 1800s, turning out some of the finest soccer players in the country. Girls teams came later to the CYC and high schools in St. Louis. Throughout, Catholic high schools have continued to produce star-quality teams and players.

This season, Catholic high schools from the archdiocese made the final four in three of the four classes of the girls’ soccer state tournament. Two champions emerged.

The Class 4 finals featured two Catholic schools from the archdiocese, with St. Dominic defeating Nerinx Hall 3-1. Ursuline Academy won the title in Class 2, defeating St. Charles 2-0. And in Class 3, Notre Dame High School lost to Grain Valley 1-0 in the state semifinals.

St. Dominic has been to the final four nine times, winning six championships. Nerinx has eight final four appearance, winning one title game and finishing second three times. Incarnate Word Academy and St. Joseph’s Academy have had much success, with 21 and 17 final four appearance respectively. Duchesne and Visitation Academy join them and St. Dominic at the top.

Ursuline Academy’s varsity coach, Theresa Kaiser, said the players’ confidence was the key to the season that resulted in the school’s first soccer championship. Ursuline has had very good teams in the past but hit a low recently, winning only a handful of games the last couple seasons. The seniors on the team had lost their enthusiasm for the sport and some reluctantly returned for this season.

You can’t keep a good program down for long. Though Ursuline hadn’t won a championship until this year, it had finished second in the state tournament twice, with the last time in 2004 when Kaiser was a player on the team.

Kaiser, who teaches at St. Simon the Apostle School, finds it easy to mix soccer and the Catholic faith with her players. Ursuline “was a good part of my life,” she said, recalling wearing red sweaters to Mass at the school. “It’s a good thing to have in life,” Kaiser said, pointing out that a prayer life is stressed at Ursuline.

On the soccer field this season, she said, “having that love and support of our Catholic community as well as my St. Simon community was a great experience.”

Notre Dame High School has 10 final four appearances, winning one championship and coming in second three times. Varsity coach Jake Pittroff explained that the tradition is centered around producing compassionate, caring Christian women with athletics a vehicle to help them succeed as student-athletes.

He praised his senior class this year, who were especially true to the year’s motto of playing hard, fast and together. They played tough teams such as Nerinx and conference foe St. Dominic. “The girls’ strength of schedule prepared them to rise to getting the final four opportunity,” he said.

A teacher at Christian Brothers College High School, he appreciates the faith life of the players and their leadership in other areas of the school.

He credited assistant coach Ryan Limb and player-leaders Abigail Youngblood, Grace Newsham and Jill Beck, among others. A majority of the starters are returning for the next season, Pittroff said.

Both expressed gratitude for the close-knit community of the Catholic high school coaches. “It’s always good to see that the Catholic schools are thriving, whether with sports, religion or in general,” Kaiser said. “I always wish for the best for all the schools.”

Pittroff mentioned St. Dominic coach Greg Koeller and Nerinx coach Brian Haddock as among his mentors and friends.

Kenny is a staff writer for the Review and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville.

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