The Morton girls soccer team has hit its stride at the right time.
Morton dealt with various injuries early in the season that caused them to get out to a 3-5-3 start.
Since April 26, the Lady Potters have won seven of their last 10 games, including two postseason victories against Bloomington High School in the IHSA Class 2A Regional semifinals and Normal U-High in the regional championship game.
Morton’s success has been its play on the defensive side of the ball.
The Potters have allowed one goal in their last two games.
“When you get in the playoffs, you don’t want to find yourself getting in shootouts,” Morton head coach Tory DeLong said. “It’s kind of one thing in the regular season against a non-conference opponent where you just roll the ball out and see what you can do. But at this point, you can not depend on scoring three, four or five goals any chance. You got to lock down defensively, limit goals and other teams are doing the same thing. It’s going to be difficult for us to score goals too. Everything is just different in the postseason.”
DeLong credits the return of senior defender Kelli Mueller and midfielder Sami Hall to the lineup as a reason the team has played well, not only towards the end of the regular season, but in the postseason, too.
Mueller was sidelined for two weeks due to a concussion, her third since last season.
Mueller, a two-year starter, was a big loss for Morton on the defensive side of the ball.
“This year we were really cautious, this being her third concussion,” DeLong said. “She had some lingering symptoms and stuff too, so that was about a two week adventure where we were trying to figure out who to go back (to defense). When you’re getting scored on, its tough to makeup for that.”
Despite her concussions, Mueller doesn’t let the past affect her future.
“I was timid at first,” Mueller said. “Once the season went on it wasn’t hard though.”
The senior is very confident in her teams chances this postseason. Mueller said one weekend at Chatham-Glenwood High School turned the Potters season around.
“At first, we couldn’t connect well,” Mueller said. “But at the Chatham tournament we all clicked. That weekend turned our season around for us.”
The Potters went 1-1-1 in the tournament, defeating Chatham-Glenwood in the final game of the weekend. Despite winning one out of three games, she said the team’s ball movement and chemistry changed on the soccer field.
Defender Sydney Hilliard and midfielder Casey Lee are a few players who gained game experience during the stretch of injuries.
“What the difference between them now and the 3-5 point, is they have game experience,” DeLong said. “When they’re coming off the bench, they’re coming off the bench with games in that tough stretch that we had. They were in there to battle. Now coming in off the bench, they’re experienced and a much more seasoned bench than what we had.”
Mueller said she was worried about losing seniors from last year’s team, but the team has grown since the first game of the season.
“Our defense has been extremely strong and we all know our personnel,” Mueller said. “We’ve made amazing strides.”
DeLong said the entire team has grown at the right time due to the adversity the team faced early in the year.
“It’s just different now,” DeLong said. We’re just at a different level now than we were at the beginning with experience.”
Morton, the only Mid-Illini Conference team left alive in postseason play, is hoping for a deeper playoff push.
The Lady Potters welcome Champaign Centennial to EastSide Centre at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the IHSA Class 2A East Peoria sectional semifinal.
Centennial has shown why they were given the No. 1 seed in its half of the sectional by not allowing a goal this postseason to opponents Lincoln and Champaign Central.
“They’re good,” DeLong said. “They’ve got about four or five very strong players and they compete in a very good conference. Their record shows a few losses, but they play fantastic competition.”
“I’m extremely confident in our team,” Mueller said. I’m very confident in our chances, but it all starts with our defense.”
If Morton moves on they will play either Normal Community or Mahomet-Seymour for the sectional championship Friday.