Coalers put up fight before falling in sectional finals

MANTENO – When a team is enjoying an historic season, the hope is that when the run finally comes to an end, it can at least say that it went out in style.

Coal City’s girls soccer team certainly can make that claim after it saw its successful campaign come to an end against the host in the Class 1A Manteno Sectional final.

Although the veteran Panthers have been one of the state’s top programs over the past few years, the Coalers never had before advanced this far.

And although coach Michael Kostbade’s squad saw its hopes of playing in the final week dashed after a 2-0 loss to Manteno, they can walk away feeling proud of their effort.

“I told the girls that we had to give them our best game and also play as a team,” said Kostbade, whose team fell, 6-1, to the Panthers early in the season. “We knew how strong they were offensively and what it was going to take, and our girls did not let up. We were coordinated today with our defense. Our motto all season was to finish strong, whether it was a drill, a game or the season and that’s why I’m pleased with our great effort.”

Manteno (21-2) applied plenty of pressure on the Coalers (13-3), but keeper Britta Spelde came up with numerous big stops and her backline of Ashley Jezik, Kristen Pearcy, Taylor McCollough and Danielle VanCura did a nice job of breaking up several other good threats that the hosts threw at them.

The defense kept the Panthers off the scoreboard during the initial 40 minutes, and it was still scoreless midway through the second half before Manteno finally connected.

“We made history, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls to do it with,” said Pearcy, one of the squad’s three senior captains. “No (Coal City) team has gone this far, and honestly, no one thought we’d do it. We lost a lot of really good players from last year and a lot of people didn’t think that we’d get past regionals. This season was so much fun.”

Manteno scored the only goal that it would need in the 62nd minute when Sophia Schnitzler sent a pass in to Emily Gaither, who put in a short try to make it a 1-0 match.

Although the Panthers tried their best to add to their goal total, they finally found the net again after the referee ruled that Gaither was fouled in the box and Alyssa Snodsmith put in the subsequent penalty to clinch the team’s trip to Tuesday’s IVC Super-Sectional.

“I’m really happy with how we did,” said McCollough, another captain. “I’m going to college and decided not to play, so this was a great end to the season. We lost nine seniors who were some of our best players, so we didn’t think we’d accomplish as much and we went even farther. Some younger players moved up and we became close as a team.”

The Coalers graduate seven seniors from their special season. Those players are Natalie Norris, Gabby Sanders, Courtney Torino, Spelde and the three captains, Brittany Jezik, McCollough and Pearcy.

But many of the others who saw plenty of time on the field during the program’s initial sectional final will be back, assuring that there could be similar success next season.

“It was awesome to see how we played today,” Jezik said. “I liked the progression that we had from the beginning of the season until the end. We had a lot of injuries and a lot of players who had to fill new positions, so it was good to see how we all came together toward the end. It was a lot of fun because of the mixture of girls we had on this team.”