When Murphysboro began its soccer program last year, the decision was made to not take the usual road of beginning the program as a JV team and two or three years later begin varsity competition. Rather, they would instead jump into the deep end of the pool and play a varsity schedule right from the get-go.

“I made the decision to go with a varsity schedule, because we didn’t want to limit ourselves to playing JV only,” said Murphysboro coach Michael Lydy.

Lydy came in with 17 years of soccer experience in the region, having coached on the rec level in Carbondale starting in 2002 and at the club level starting in 2006, first with the the S.I. Heat and then with S.I. United. In 2016, he was hired by Murphysboro high school as their first soccer coach.

“The first year of the program I saw a lot of kids who were excited about playing soccer at the high school level and a lot of anticipation – not only by the players and their families, but by the community as a whole,” Lydy said.

With the reputation Lydy had, the turnout was great for the first tryouts at the new fields of the Murphysboro Soccer Complex just west of the Elks Club on the southwest side of town. When the season began, Murphysboro’s inaugural girls team consisted of three seniors, five juniors, seven sophomores and six freshmen.

“We started with over 20 girls and had about the same number come out again this year, so the program is very healthy,” Lydy said. “I had athletes to work with and that’s important in any sport. If you can give me athletic kids who are interested in the sport, I can train them to be good soccer players.”

The Red Devils opened last year with two shutouts and three wins. Over the next six games, they lost, 1-0, to Kelly, lost to Carbondale 4-0, tied with Massac County 4-4, beat Herrin/Carterville 6-2, lost 6-0 to Poplar Bluff and tied with Freeburg. 

Shortly thereafter, the young team started to hit its stride. Two more shutouts and a tough triple-overtime loss to Mater Dei ended the Red Devils' regular season at 13-5-2.

Murphysboro went into its first playoffs as the sixth seed at the Columbia 1A Regional and had the misfortune to draw No. 1 seed Columbia, who advanced to the state quarterfinals, in the first round. The Red Devils lost 8-0.

The star of the first team was freshman Lillie Schaldemose, who set the bar high for the goal scoring record with 33 goals. Senior Emma Nehring was the second leading goal scorer with 10 and sophomore Hannah Estel finished with nine. Nehring led the team in assists with eight.

“Lillie has an innate ability to score,” Lydy said. “She had some experience in soccer, but not much. She’s actually an excellent volleyball player. When you get kids who play multiple sports, Arie Cignavoch is another one, they excel at each sport, because the principles of one sport translates to the others. Lillie has a high soccer IQ and picks things up quickly.”

Scheme wise the Red Devils played a 4-2-3-1 with Schaldemose being the only forward and that worked well. In the first eight games of the season, Murphysboro was allowing 2.5 goals a game while scoring 3.25, but in the final 12 games of the regular season they upped their scoring to 3.67 and dropped their goals allowed to just one a game.

Losing just three seniors and one starter off the inaugural team, the second season began with a roster that consisted of seven seniors, seven juniors, five sophomores and four freshmen.

“I am blessed this year with having so many important contributors from last year’s team,” Lydy said. “Estel is the third leading scorer and is the assist guru and Ciganovich is the glue that holds the whole team together. Taylor Hobbs, who plays goalie, is a rock. Jacey Nehring and Ashley Jarrett, who play center defense, have shut opposing offenses completely down.”

With one year of experience under their belts, Lydy employed phase two of his program and changed the defensive scheme in the center midfield to a diamond instead of the flat four scheme. He plays junior Brianna Rodely as holding center midfielder just in front of the back four and senior Ciganovich as attacking center midfielder just behind the forwards.

“It took most of last year for the girls to get used to the system, so this year we were able to jump into more team dynamics and what we do on the field as a group,” Lydy said. “Brianna never played soccer before and could play college soccer now.”

He also found some added firepower in freshman Maci Uffelman, so he put her next to Schaldemose at forward, giving teams matchup problems.

“Maci is blazing fast,” Lydy said. “I’ve been blessed two years in a row where I have freshmen who score 20 plus goals. We’re much harder to defend this year, in part, because last year Lillie was put in the position as the only forward and having to score. This year we have multiple scoring options, and Lillie has improved her ability to assist Maci, Hannah and Arie, which makes it harder to shut us down. Hannah gave up playing forward to play outside mid, and that has given us scoring options from that position, too. I think the world of Hannah for that.”

Joining Estel at outside midfielder is Lillie’s older sister, senior Olivia Schaldemose, and at outside defensive backs are sophomore Ayden Ruffner and junior Sydney Cook.

The Red Devils opened the season with five shutouts and a 4-0-1 record before losing their first game on the road against Freeburg, 2-1. The team won its next five games before losing its second game, 6-1, to Trenton-Wesclin.

After being outplayed for the first time this season, the Red Devils came back with a vengeance, closing out the regular season with eight straight wins.

During the streak the Red Devils proved they weren’t just a flash in the pan, with a 1-1 tie at home against powerhouse Marion and a 1-0 shutout at Carbondale, with the game-winning goal coming in the first five minutes on a penalty kick by Ciganovich.

Schaldemose is still the leading scorer with 21 goals, but Uffelman is right behind with 20. Estel ranks next with 13 and Ciganovich with 10. Estel leads the team with 16 assists. Senior goalkeeper Taylor Hobbs has posted 10 of the team’s 14 shutouts in 18 starts.

The combination of maturation and the new dynamic scheme has provided immediate dividends with a 17-2-2 record heading into the playoffs. The Red Devils are the fourth seed at the Massac County 1A Regional and will open against fifth seed Harrisburg Wednesday at 4 p.m.

“I have to give all of the credit to the girls for the reason we have 17 wins,” Lydy said. “It starts with Lillie willing to let the other girls score, and that mentality permeates throughout the team. They really like each other and pull together as a team. We’ve been down in games, but they fully believe they are going to come back and win. It’s fun to watch. We have not won a regional game yet, but then again we hadn’t beaten Carbondale either, so I hope this year is different.”

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