Preach it: Wildcats rejoice in opening triumph

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Jasper’s Anna Charron, center, laughed with Reagan Otto, right, as Annie Stout, left, and Erin Moser also joined the huddle before Tuesday’s Class 2A girls soccer sectional opener at Castle. The Wildcats won 5-0 and will meet Evansville North in Thursday’s semifinals. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By JOSEPH FANELLI
Herald Sports Writer

NEWBURGH — The Jasper girls soccer team kicks off every match with a sermon of sorts, although this isn’t any sermon you’ve see in a church.

It features 30 teenage girls, a lot of screaming, some shouts of “amen” and indecipherable, animated yelling from senior center back Annie Stenftenagel, the preacher of this Church of Wildcat.

Stenftenagel


What started as an imitation of the Jasper football team — and has turned into something much, much different — has morphed into part of the pregame ritual for Stenftenagel and the Wildcats, who breezed through Boonville 5-0 on Tuesday night, advancing to the semifinals of the Class 2A sectional at Castle. It’s been a blessed season for the Cats, who have reached the 11-win mark for the first time in five seasons. That 2008 team lost to a Forest Park squad in the sectional championship, and if the current Wildcats hope to surpass their predecessors, they’ll need more big-time play, and yells, from Stenftenagel and the rest of the defense.

Senior Emily Jones kick-started a Wildcat offense that had generated just two goals in the last four games with a one-goal, two-assist performance, but it was Stenftenagel and the defense that kept any and all Pioneer attacks at bay. On at least five occasions, a Pioneer player managed to get behind Jasper’s outside defenders with the ball ahead of them in open space, and every time Stenftenagel simply swooped in and poked the ball out of bounds, allowing her team to fall back and reset. With a combination of speed and awareness, Stenftenagel controls a back line that has allowed just three goals in the last six contests.

“My wing defenders know once they think they’re beat, they cut middle and I tell them, ”˜As soon as you go, I’m coming in,’” Stenftenagel said. “Then I read the situation depending on how fast (the opposing player is) and then I’ll make a tackle or just tap it out of bounds.”

“She has such speed,” Jasper coach Anthony Price added. “And it’s not just that. She reads the play so well. She takes great angles to the ball and that’s hard to teach. She’s very instinctive with that and she’s willing to give up her body. And a lot of girls aren’t. She just throws herself in there and gets ball. That’s a big thing, too. A lot of people sometimes get in there and get a leg or a shoulder or whatever. She gets ball and she gets it hard.”

Since moving Stenftenagel from middle attack to center back during the Hoosier Cup in early September, the Wildcats have allowed more than two goals in a game only once, when they gave up three to Class 1A No. 11 Heritage Hills.

“Since we moved her back there, we’ve been a much more cohesive defensive unit,” Price said. “Not just because of her play, but because of her communication.”

Not all of her talking is reserved for moments before games. Stenftenagel, one of only two or three girls who plays the entire game, spends the whole 40 minutes barking orders. In fact, her constant yelling eventually became part of the inspiration for her preacher act.

“I talk a lot on the field, so I always get real hoarse,” she explained. “And we would mimic the football players. When they were stretching, they’d always be like, “All right!

“I started practicing my raspy voice and it turned into ”˜Amen!’”

The extra pep seemed to have an effect on Jones, who knifed into the Pioneer defense four minutes into the contest and knocked in the Wildcats’ first goal, a laser that somehow squeezed between keeper Ally Church and the goal post.

“I was going in on the wing and I saw the (defender) crashing,” Jones said. “She hit (the ball) right off my shin guards right into my area of play. I was faster than her so I beat her to the ball, and we’ve played against their goalie for four years so I knew she likes the ball in the air and she’s not a big diver. So I played it low and left.”

Jones displayed that kind of knowledge and understanding throughout the game, generating much of the Wildcat offense with great passes and movement. Her first assist came on a pass to Elizabeth Verkamp as the forward crashed into the 18-yard box. Verkamp fielded the ball running to her right, made one touch forward and then drove the ball low to her left, leaving the goalie with no chance for a save.

“(Jones is) a very good creator,” Price said. “She’s very good at finding people in space and finding feet. And when we can get her involved early, not just in goals, but just with the ball at her feet, we’re a dangerous team.”

Jones paced the offense, consistently finding players like Annie Stout on the outside and Brittany Haskins in the middle. Her second assist came on a perfect through ball to Anna Charron, who scored on a one-touch finish. Each of Jasper’s goals came from a different player, as freshmen Samantha Kabrick and Reagan Otto added the other two.

Jasper will need plenty more enthusiasm and pep talks as it continues its postseason at 8 p.m. EDT Thursday against Evansville North in the semifinals. As Jones, explains, all the Wildcats need is a little push and that first goal, and they’ll ready to go.

“We get on our soccer high and we’re just like, ”˜Woo!” she said.

Contact Joseph Fanelli at jfanelli@dcherald.com




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