Looking ahead to next year’s soccer contest between Lady Jays, Lady Crusaders

Sports Commentary

Jefferson City and Helias have just about the perfect setup for a rivalry.

Thanks to geographical proximity and the public-private dichotomy, this leads to great battles every season. This 2012-13 school year was no different.

We saw tremendous efforts, sometimes with both teams’ respective playoff lives on the line, as in softball and volleyball. Other matchups in basketball and baseball, among others, were a treat, too.

I expect the 2013-14 school year to give us more of the same. Almost every sport offers up an enticing matchup that’s sure to please.

There is one matchup in one sport that stands out above the rest for next season. The rivalry game I expect to have the most collective talent, highest ceiling for postseason runs by both squads and best game potential? None other than in girls soccer.

That’s right, girls soccer.

Both Jefferson City and Helias are coming off arguably the best campaigns in school history.

Jefferson City advanced to the Class 3 state quarterfinals for only the third time ever, and fell just short of what would be the Lady Jays’ first Final Four berth when Nixa rallied for a 3-1 victory.

Jefferson City finished with a 17-4-1 overall record and should finish with a top-10 ranking when the long-past-due final rankings come out.

Helias, of course, just finished up a magical run that saw it finish second in the state in Class 2, the Lady Crusaders’ best finish ever.

They came excruciatingly close to knocking off powerhouse St. Dominic, not only the top-ranked team in the state, but the country as well. Helias deservedly finished the season No. 2 in the state.

But I’m not talking about this past season. I’m already looking forward to 2014. Why?

Both Jefferson City and Helias will be even better.

The Lady Jays did all their damage with an extremely young team. Of the three seniors on the roster, only one was a starter. That means Jefferson City returns 10 starters from a 17-4-1 team that allowed just 17 goals on the season, posted 11 shutouts and tallied three goals per game.

New head coach Eddie Horn will have a lot to work with. That includes three returning all-state selections in first-team goalkeeper Becca Sturgess and second-team selections in defender Courtney Kolb and forward Sarah Luebbert.

With an offseason to improve and the inevitable graduation losses for opponents, the Lady Jays should once again field a formidable team.

Then you look at Helias, a school that’s made the Class 2 Final Four the past two seasons, taking third-place in 2012 and second in 2013. The Lady Crusaders lose three senior starters — first-team all-state midfielder Taylor Hagenhoff, second-team all-state goalie Liz Czarnecki and tenacious left back Haley Bax.

The eight returning starters have at least one taste of Final Four experience, if not two. Several capable reserves should be able to fill in the open positions. Helias returns first-team all-state midfielder Becky Roberts and honorable mention selection Jordan Poire on the right wing.

Helias posted 12 shutouts during its 17-8 season and brings back three talented defenders and a bevy of playmakers, speedsters and goal scorers.

That’s why I can’t wait for the 2014 crosstown showdown in girls soccer. The 2013 version was pretty special, with Jefferson City getting a late winner to beat Helias 2-1.

I expect an evenly-played battle next season between a pair of fantastic teams with gaudy records. It should be a soccer showcase featuring two of the better teams in mid-Missouri, and maybe even the state.

Of all the Jefferson City-Helias rivalry games on the slate for next season, the girls soccer game is the main event.

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