New coach, same expectations as QND girls soccer team sets sights on return to state tourney


Quincy Notre Dame girls soccer coach Mark Thomas, right, demonstrates the proper technique during a drill in a preseason practice at Advance Physical Therapy Field. | Matt Schuckman photo

QUINCY — Aubrey Sparrow wasn’t naive enough to think the tempo and tenor of Mark Thomas-led practices would be similar to those run by former Quincy Notre Dame girls soccer Mark Longo.

“I knew the style would change, just how it does with every coach,” the senior defender said.

But she remained confident the Raiders would maintain consistency in one important aspect.

“The chemistry, the hard work is still there,” Sparrow said. “The girls work hard just the same as they did regardless of which coach is in charge.”

That has been the most encouraging aspect for Thomas, a former professional soccer player who was inducted into the QND Hall of Fame in 1998 and  is just the second head coach in the 35-year history of QND girls program. He was hired last June to replace Longo, the program’s architect who retired last May after winning 608 games and six state championships.

“We’re asking them to do a few different things as far as possession and thinking about the game differently and really valuing the ball,” Thomas said. “They work really hard, which has always been the case with Coach Longo’s teams of the past. And we have to have that.

“The work ethic is the basis for everything we do.”

So is the experience.

The Raiders’ roster features three seniors — Sparrow, defender Lauryn Peters and goalkeeper Addison Van Hecke — who had roles on the Class 1A state championship team in 2022 and the Class 1A fourth-place team in 2021. Three juniors — midfielder Sage Stratton, midfielder Meredith Eversman and forward Makayla Patton — were part of the state title team, too.

“It’s a great motivation each year because you want to go back to that amazing feeling right when you get that trophy,” Stratton said. “It’s a motivation every day. Honestly, I think about it every day, wanting to go back to that and bring home hardware to the school.” 

Not meeting the state-level standard last season after suffering a 4-2 loss to Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin in the regional championship still resonates.

“It was hard not making it to state last year on everyone,” Sparrow said. “There’s that hunger to get there. Even with the freshmen, I know they are going to work hard and put in the effort because they want to get there. We all want to feel that experience again.”

The pieces are in place to make that happen.

Peters and Eversman both missed last season after suffering ACL injuries, but their returns bolster the lineup. Van Hecke split time with Aly Young in goal in previous seasons, but she is the full-time starter now and a vocal leader in back.

Sophomore wing defender Bayley Weisenberger saw plenty of time in back last season, while sophomores Addie Flesch and Ellison Barnes will help Patton up top as they Raiders have to replace the production of all-state forward Lia Quintero, who scored 96 career goals.

Having Stratton and junior Lilly Schuette return in the midfield to anchor everything.

“Both compete really well,” Thomas said. “They’re unbelievable competitors.”

A strong freshman class that includes Thomas’ daughter, Sierra, along with Lakin Allensworth, Jovie Monteyne, Hannah Bergman and others creates depth and daily competition.

“I know them well, they know me, they know my expectations,” Thomas said of the freshmen.

The upperclassmen are adjusting to his style and expectations quickly.

“He is really able to teach the game to (the underclassmen) and to us at the same time,” Stratton said. “That’s a really terrific trait to have as a coach.”

It’s easy to coach when players yearn to improve.

“They’re like sponges with their desire to learn,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how that translates to games because you can’t simulate in practice and game-like speed and intensity and all of the things you get hit with on game day. We try to as players and coaches. It’s just different. The spacing’s different. When we get out there, it will be interesting to see.”

The Raiders kick off their season at 12:30 p.m. Saturday against Jefferson City (Mo.) Helias at Advance Physical Therapy Field.

“Our main goal is we take on the team in front of us,” Stratton said. “Right now, that’s Helias. So we’re putting all of our focus on Helias. Once we get through that, the focus shifts to the next game going forward.”

Quincy Notre Dame junior midfielder Sage Stratton is one of several players with state tournament experience returning for the Raiders this season. | Matt Schuckman photo

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