Grace Bond

Monticello's Grace Bonds (11) passes as Mia Maupin (12) looks on in the Sages' game against Urbana on April 22. 

With a 2-1 victory on the road against Judah-Christian on Thursday, the Monticello girls’ soccer team matched its wins total from the 2018 season: six.

With five regular-season games to go before the Sages enter postseason play.

That may not seem like a lot to some, but the six wins Monticello claimed in coach David McDaniel’s first season a year ago was the most since the Sages won eight in 2010.

Monticello has the opportunity to reach that mark for the first time in nearly a decade, and possibly surpass it to reach double-digit wins for the first time since 2009, the year the Sages won a regional championship.

“Our team slogan is ‘Own The Moment’ and that is exactly what I want them to do,” McDaniel said. “We’ve come a long way, but if this season has shown us anything, it is that our relatively inexperienced team is progressing in the direction we want it to. We’ve been battle tested all year with close wins and close losses along with all the feelings that go along with both situations, but continuing to work hard, execute our brand of soccer and having a belief in one another will continue to give us a chance in every game.”

Monticello has played in seven contests decided by one goal. The Sages are 3-4 in those games, but have won the last three one-goal decisions.

Three other games have been decided by two goals, making 10 of Monticello’s 17 contests as of April 22 a difference of two or fewer goals.

“I have been pleased with the gradual improvement as a team. Almost two-thirds of our team has 15 months or less of career soccer experience so it has been an ongoing project to use our practice time effectively to challenge the girls and piece together where everybody fits,” McDaniel said. “This season we have seen that growth, teamwork and energy start to pay off. We are playing a smarter brand of soccer and trusting our game plan. Soccer is a fluid game and we definitely have our moments, but overall the girls are doing a great job.”

With so little experience, McDaniel has found every moment provides a teaching opportunity.

“The first area of tremendous improvement is the girls’ overall understanding of the game. We’ve watched many different teams on film, including our own, to see the traits and tactics it takes to be successful, then worked in our training sessions to apply them,” he said. “As coaches, it is exciting to see our girls so willing to learn, especially when they see the good and bad of themselves on tape. Our speed of play and possession was not something we were very good at last year and why we can always do better. It is improving.  

“The second area of great improvement is the overall team attitude. There are teams on our schedule that used to beat us by wide margins each year and previously when they would score early on, you could see some of our girls somewhat shut down. This year, we are battling these same teams and keeping it competitive. The girls are buying into what we are doing and know that if we keep to our game plan, we will always have a shot. Six wins is the fourth highest in program history and no one is satisfied with that. This area has many terrific soccer teams and it will continue to be our goal to build so we are annually in that conversation.”

Having a scoring star like senior Mia Maupin certainly helps boost a program. Maupin currently has 24 goals this season, with a chance to break her school record of 28 from a year ago. Her total of 88 career goals will continue to climb as well.

But it’s Maupin’s other attributes that have impressed McDaniel this season.

“Mia has been a workhorse again this year with her energy and competitiveness,” he said. “Obviously you love seeing the goals scored and coaching a school dual record holder but what I also love seeing is her improvement as a passer and holding herself more accountable in various situations.”

An improved defense has allowed Maupin’s goals to matter more and lead to more wins for the Sages.

“Our defense has been working very hard and overall is an upbeat group of girls. Part of their improvement comes from their ability to process what is happening on the field more quickly and the ability to work as a unit structurally,” McDaniel said. “We challenge them in practice and hold them accountable for mistakes and they have responded well. Playing defense in soccer is so polarizing because if you make a mistake or two, it’s a goal. I feel we trust ourselves more than last year and for us that goes a long way. The other exciting factor is that none of them are seniors so the bar will be raised for next year.”