QUINCY — Audrey Henkenmeier makes it sound simple.
It turns out the secret to success for the Quincy Notre Dame girls soccer team’s defense actually is.
“We know how to get the ball out of danger,” Henkenmeier said.
The Raiders do that with such a calm demeanor it’s surprising and sometimes shocking when an opposing attacker breaks free or a shot ends up on goal. There haven’t been many of those moments this season and even fewer in the postseason.
QND (17-1-1) has posted 14 shutouts this season and allowed just eight goals total heading into the Class 1A super-sectional matchup with Normal U-High (14-6) at 6 p.m. Monday at Bloomington High School.
The winner advances to the state final four Friday at Hoffman Estates.
“There’s a lot of real hunger,” Henkenmeier said. “There’s just a lot of fight in us.”
It has built confidence in a group lacking overall depth, but specifically among its upperclassmen with just three seniors, while bursting with talent at every turn.
“From day one, our goal has been to make it as far as we can,” said Henkenmeier, a center back who is one of the seniors. “We are achieving it. We just have to take it one game at a time, which we have been.”
The Raiders have outscored three postseason opponents 21-0 and buried Pleasant Plains 7-0 in the sectional championship game Friday night. The Raiders beat the Cardinals just 1-0 in the regular season, but QND coach Mark Longo sensed a different demeanor in the rematch.
“The energy was great,” Longo said. “It was like the past when I’ve talked about sharks in the water. They were going after it.”
Defensively, the effort and energy has never waned.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic canceling the spring 2020 season, the Raiders entered this spring with a roster heavy with players who hadn’t ever played a varsity game. It could have created issues with chemistry and continuity.
It hasn’t at all.
“I don’t think it’s been as hard as we thought it would be,” Henkenmeier said. “Even though none of us seniors hadn’t played with any of the underclassmen, the underclassmen have played together and we’ve all learned how to adapt to each other.”
There was still the need for veteran leadership, something Henkenmeier has done almost inconspicuously.
Her steady presence, calmness under attack and ability to neutralize dangerous situations has made attacking in the middle of the field virtually impossible. Tandeming her with sophomore Eva Dickerman, the team’s starting sweeper, enables them to clear any ball.
It’s the right example for the younger players to follow.
“Since the girls are so young, they look up to not only me, but the other seniors,” Henkenmeier said. “Eva Dickerman makes it a little bit easier. Since she’s our main sweeper, they also look to her, too. We kind of look to each other.”
As the season has progressed, Longo has been more aggressive with moving Dickerman to more of an attacking role and sliding Henkenmeier back to the sweeper spot. Nothing changes when that happens.
The defense is always stout.
“It’s still the same regardless of who plays what position or what he changes,” Henkenmeier said. “It’s still about keeping the ball out of danger.”
Do that often enough Monday night and another trophy will be added to QND’s overflowing trophy case. That will send Henkenmeier off to college fulfilled.
“I can finish out strong with a good season knowing that I did enjoy it and loved everything about it,” Henkenmeier said.