All season, the Assumption girls soccer team has been going through a changing of the guard.
After losing a senior class that won four state championships, the Knights went through a level of adversity they had become unaccustomed to, finishing the season 8-8.
But once the postseason hit, Class 1A No. 3 Assumption is making one thing clear — the road to a state title still goes through the Knights, a point they emphasized with a 6-0 win over Dubuque Wahlert on Friday. Assumption hosts 12th-ranked Solon in a regional final Monday at 5 p.m. looking to continue a stretch that has seen the Knights outscore opponents 18-0 in its last three games, all wins.
"We're peaking at the right time," senior Riley Behan said. "It doesn't matter how many games we win or lose, what matters is that postseason and that's the mentality that we have."
Behan had a goal and three assists, but even though the old guard led the way, the new guard showed plenty capable for the years to follow. Freshman Molly Gervase finished with two goals and an assist, which came on Rachel Jennings' first of two goals in the match. After a stout Golden Eagles (5-13-1) defense prevented the Knights from stringing together an attack, Gervase found Jennings with a pass that split two defenders and the junior scored in the 12th minute.
Crisp passing was the key as Behan found Gervase for a goal and then scored herself on a pass from Shelly Moore to cap a period of three Assumption goals in six minutes.
"It really gave us some momentum to go forward and keep pushing," Gervase said. "Once you get that first goal, hopefully things follow and we ended up winning by six. Rachel really opened the gates to a good win."
Assumption (10-8) outshot Wahlert 28-7, with the majority of the Golden Eagle chances coming after sophomore Joy Ripslinger's goal in the 50th minute. With his second 11 out on the field, Assumption coach Jonathan Dreasler was pleased to come away with the shutout.
"Wahlert did not give up," he said. "They played us the full 80 minutes. I had some of my young girls in and I'm pretty happy with it. They needed the experience, I'm graduating some seniors so that's a risk we take. They didn't give up a goal, that's their job and I'm very happy."
That experience gained is hopefully the key to keeping the program at the same level after this year's senior class, which is looking for its fourth state title, leaves.
"I think that this program is a different program than anyone's ever seen before," Behan said. "It's really a combination of some wisdom but also that youthful talent that's coming in and it's a really nice thing to see because I know that even after I'll be gone, I'm leaving kind of a legacy for them to uphold. I'm passing on that torch to them."
Even though Assumption struggled at times in the loss column, there wasn't much panic, and with a glance at the schedule, it's easy to see how the team remained calm. Of the eight losses, three came to teams in a higher class, and five came to a team from another state, including a loss in penalty kicks to Rock Island Alleman, which finished third in the Illinois Class 1A state tournament.
A season-ending win over Iowa City Regina, then ranked second in Class 1A, went a long way towards giving the young players the confidence necessary when the postseason hit.
"Winning 1-0 over Regina was amazing," Gervase said. "The young kids, including myself and never played them so it was a lot of pressure, following last year's loss (of seniors). That win meant a lot to us."
The Knights aren't back in the postseason yet, with Solon (13-5) still standing in its way. Behan and the four other seniors are making sure the young players know what to expect.
"They need to realize it's okay to be nervous, just don't let it affect your game in the first 10-15 minutes," she said. "That happened today so I think our composure and confidence needs to improve a little bit but once we have that I think we have all the key elements to go out and win a state championship."