In their past six games, SLUH soccer has scored 25 goals. Their opponents have scored just three. In summary: this year’s Varsity team is good, and they're off to a dangerously hot start. Four additional wins over the past week have the team at 6-0-1 on the season and poised to turn heads at the CBC tournament.

The scoring spree started last Thursday, when the Jr. Bills suited up against Webster Groves. The biggest challenge of the night proved not to be the opponent, though, but the opponent’s turf. Webster’s field was grass and had a slight hill, which made it uncharted territory for the Jr. Bills, who were much more familiar with the turf fields at SLUH. 

After 90 minutes of play, though, SLUH’s high-powered offense prevailed. Senior forward Stephen Saladin led the team with two goals, and both showcased a unique aspect of his game. Saladin’s first goal, which opened the scoring, came on a blistering breakaway that left the Webster defenders in the dust. His second was a clean penalty kick that shot past the goalie’s right side, emphasizing his shooting ability.

The other goal of the game, which put SLUH up 2-0, came from sophomore midfielder Grant Locker, who has been quietly having a stellar start to the season. Locker has posted 6 goals and 3 assists on the season, making him one of the team’s leading scorers, behind only Saladin.

             “We’ve gotten off to a great start, I think. Our front four has been really led by the seniors and followed up by some underclassmen and I think we’re great at using our speed to go forward,” said Locker.

It was Locker who shined during last Saturday’s match against Father McGivney. With 2 goals and an assist, he helped bring the team to a dominant 7-0 win. 

Once again, the field dictated strategy for the Jr. Bills, though. Thick grass forced SLUH to play balls in the air as much as possible. The strategy worked well for senior defenseman Ben Ridgway, who opened the scoring with a shot off his knee. The goal was Ridgway’s first of the season.

“We had to play a little harder to find those through balls, but the chances kept coming from them. It was great scoring, though. It was really exciting because I’ve had many chances but it was nice to finally capitalize on one. I want more,” said Ridgway.

In addition to Ridgway, several other varsity players found the back of the net for the first time against Fr. McGivney. Juniors Joe Olascoaga and Kevin Cooney both notched their first goals in the game, while junior Sam Tieber scored his second off of Locker’s assist.

Even though goals can be hard to come by in high school soccer, the Jr. Bills certainly haven’t run into that problem yet this season. Senior Evan Yalavarthi credits the team’s grit for their scoring proficiency.

“It’s probably our players this year,” he said. “In the past we haven't had that attacking mentality. Even before the season started, though, coach took us on a retreat about toughness. Over the course of the season so far we’ve developed that mentality that we need to score. Now, we have a tough team and that creates a desire to score and the ability to follow through.”

After two statement wins, the Jr. Bills’ biggest game of the past week came Wednesday night against Vianney, which was their first game of MCC conference play. SLUH was supposed to play on Tuesday, but lightning stopped the game a few minutes into the first half. Play picked up the next night, and the Jr. Bills brought momentum. The game was only the first of the CBC Tournament, but Yalavarthi had high expectations for the match.

“We are actually very confident going into the tournament,” he said. “Our goal was to win this tournament and we think that’s definitely within reach. After playing against Vianney, they didn’t have any chances to score but we were just pounding them and we had so many shots, so we’re hoping to put up a lot of goals and win the other two games as well.”

Unsurprisingly, it was Locker who opened the scoring against Vianney. A fast shot off an assist from Tyler Van Bree put the Jr. Bills on top early. The only other goal of the night was scored by Yalavarthi from outside the box, but it wasn’t SLUH’s only chance. Several shots bounced off the goal post and could have added to the final score had it not been for a few inches. 

Overall, O’Connell was very happy with the play against Vianney.

“We passed the ball well, we passed it quick, we had a good first touch. I think a lot of it has to do with the skill and quality of our guys,” O’Connell said.

SLUH followed up the win against Vianney with a last second shocker last night against CBC. Two goals from Saladin put the Jr. Bills up early against one of the highest ranked teams in the state. O’Connell had stressed before the game, though, that the ranking did not scare him or his team. As time expired, it showed. With just under 2 seconds left in the game, Johnnie Ferrarra weaved through the box and delivered a shot that squeezed past CBC’s keeper. SLUH went on to win the game 3-2 in their closest match of the season. SLUH fans went crazy as the team rushed the field to celebrate the goal. 

SLUH looks to continue scoring tomorrow night against De Smet in their final match of the tournament. A win will mean first place for SLUH. 

“I think (winning the tournament) would be a great first step for what we’re trying to accomplish,” said O’Connell. “It would be nice to win a championship and have that taste and feeling that can only make us better.”

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