Chasing No. 1, Cats get down, don’t give up

Photos by Jacob Wiegand/The Herald
Jasper’s Peyton Blackgrave, right, hugged Ulrika Resara moments before the start of Saturday’s match.


JASPER — Down 4-0 late in the second half of Saturday’s Class 2A Jasper Regional semifinal, Wildcat girls soccer sophomore Regan Mundy blasted a goal past the Evansville Memorial defense to put her team on the board.

It was then that, even in the 5-1 loss to the 2A No. 1 Tigers, one thing became clear — the phrase “give up” was not in the Cats’ dictionary.

“It was an honor to be able to play with a team that just has heart like this,” senior Olivia Ruckriegel said. “When we stepped on the field, we were never playing for ourselves. To be able to have played with people that are my best friends both on and off the field was an honor.”

The Wildcats (13-6-1) and Tigers (16-4) went back and forth at the beginning of the match, with no team gaining an advantage until late in the first half when Evansville Memorial began to rack up more and more corner kick and set-piece opportunities.

Anna Alexander put in a goal off a corner with about 12 minutes to play in the first half to send the Tigers in to the break with a 1-0 lead. But coming out of the locker room, the speed and intensity of the Evansville Memorial offense began to wear the Wildcats down. Three goals in the span of seven minutes — two from Ryleigh Anslinger and one from Lydia Parkinson — gave the Tigers a 4-0 lead which they didn’t look back from.

“If you let down for just a bit, (Memorial) is going to take advantage of it,” Wildcat coach Michael Donato said. “As much as you can tell a team to fight after something like that, once it happens it’s mentally difficult to play as hard as you possibly can. But I think we did well. These girls should be really pleased with how they played (on Saturday), and throughout the year as a whole.”

After the match, Ruckriegel and her fellow seniors hugged one another and joined in with other teammates on one last echoing chant of “Jasper, Wildcats!” before searching to find family members and friends in the crowd.

For Ruckriegel, as soon as she saw her father the tears began to fall — a mix of both sad and happy. Sad because the whistle had blown on the final match of her high school career, but happy to have had the support of her family for the past four seasons.

“Ever since I can remember walking, I feel like I’ve been playing soccer,” Ruckriegel said. “My dad (Jeff) has been coaching all of the seniors for as long as I can remember, and I know he’s taking this hard. We all are. But just being able to have someone that loves this program as much as my dad does shows me why I love soccer so much. It’s an honor to play for a team that truly loves this game.”

Jasper’s Hallie Bawel, left, sped toward Evansville Memorial’s Kailyn Stone during a Class 2A girls soccer regional semifinal match Saturday morning in Jasper. Top-ranked Memorial won 5-1, ending the Wildcats’ season five days after Jasper won its first sectional championship since 2007.

The match was also a very physical one from the opening kickoff, with both teams jockeying for possession and whistles being blown early and often as fouls were called for both teams.

Junior Leah Schnell was involved in many tight battles for the ball, including several successful slide tackles which left her jersey covered in dirt. It was something that probably wouldn’t have happened if she would’ve ran for Jasper’s cross country team at Saturday’s Crawford County Regional instead, an option for both Schnell and fellow soccer/cross country teammate Alyssa Skorge.

“I’ve played with a lot of these girls on travel teams and they always play physical, so I knew the second it was me and the ball, I was going to have someone else coming at me,” Schnell said. “It was definitely hard for me to choose soccer over cross country. Alyssa (Skorge) told me that if she chose to run (on Saturday) and help the team move on to semistate then I could join them there after helping the soccer team.”

Schnell, who will get to compete in cross country semistate after the Wildcats placed fourth at the regional, will be one of several starters returning for the Wildcat soccer program next season. She’ll be joined by Mundy, forward Gabby Budd, goalkeeper Jessica Cruz, midfielder Amy Cruz and defender Mary Kate Hopf.

That unit, along with some others, has Donato setting high hopes for his team’s future.

“I’m confident about next year, I really am. There’s a lot of skill and talent on this team,” Donato said. “Our JV group and our sophomores that will be coming up to varsity next year are very solid. The one thing I hope to see is that enthusiasm and attitude that this year’s senior group had. We need to carry that over to next season.”

While the seniors definitely helped show Jasper’s underclassmen the ropes on the pitch, it was more so the mental strategies that will stick with those returning in 2018.

“They told us to always keep your head up, (that) we always have to keep fighting,” Schnell said. “In the game against Gibson Southern in (the) sectional (final), we were down almost the entire match until about eight minutes left. We just kept fighting through it, and I think that’s one thing that will always stick with me is to keep pushing no matter what.”

If there was one message Ruckriegel could leave behind to her underclassman teammates and even Wildcats of the future, it’s to realize quickly that soccer isn’t an individual sport.

“I felt that us seniors helped to show the underclassmen what it means to play with heart,” Ruckriegel said.

“We all love the game and love each other so much. No matter win or lose, this team has always been my passion and every single thing we’ve done has always been for other people. It’s never been, ‘How can I better myself,’ but instead, ‘How can I help the others.’”

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