CHAMPAIGN — St. Teresa's girls soccer team relied on a freshman connection in their Class 1A Champaign (Judah Christian) Regional championship match against St. Thomas More on Friday.
Freshman forward Grace Buxton scored two goals with freshman midfielder Ryenne Wagner providing an assist as the Bulldogs won 2-0 to capture the second girls soccer regional title in St. Teresa school history.
"I think this is really great. Last year we lost in the regional championship and so we came out and played our game and they played theirs, but St. Thomas More couldn't control us," Buxton said. "We are ready for the next step (at sectionals) and we are going to bring it."
Buxton's first goal came with 33:45 left in the first half off an assist from senior forward Camryn Wagner.
"Camryn's an amazing player and I knew she was going to pull through and get me the ball," Buxton said. "As soon as it hit the back of the net I just knew it was going to be a good game."
The remainder of the first half was scoreless with the teams locked in a physical battle.
St. Teresa senior captain Lauryn Pugh played much of the game on an injured knee that occurred in the regional semifinals, but nothing was going to slow her down on the pitch.
"Coming in I wasn't sure I was going to play because I tore my ACL last week but I wanted this really badly," she said. "It's my senior season and we wanted to beat St. Thomas More really badly. If this was going to be my last time playing soccer I wanted to go out with a bang and a win."
Pugh's play inspired her teammates, including her coach Connor Smith, who in his second season as Bulldogs head coach recorded his first regional championship.
"I've got girls that are banged up and Lauryn motivated everybody to keep going. They all gave everything they've got tonight," Smith said. "It's really special to me. It's special to the girls."
It wasn't until late in the second half, with 8:46 remaining, that Ryenne Wagner connected with Buxton for her second goal.
"I just counted on Grace for that. I did my job and I knew she was going to do hers and she did," Ryenne said. "I'm just so excited, words can't describe it. We knew St. Thomas More was going to be a hard team, but we knew that we were the better team and we pushed to the end."
For Buxton, her connection with Ryenne and Camryn Wagner has been years in the making.
"We've all played together on indoor at the DISC and Ryenne and I have worked on our passing and now playing on turf for a regional championship is a huge deal. I love her, she knows where to put the ball," Buxton said.
In pre-game talks, Smith reminded his team that they were in the regional finals before losing to Warrensburg-Latham/Maroa-Forsyth last season.
"I brought it up to them before the game that we were at this point last year and were beaten," Smith said. "I told them that we were too good a team to let that happen two years in a row and once we got that going it was clear they weren't going to let that happen. I was really proud of them."
Although Buxton and Ryenne weren't on that team last season, it's clear they wanted to give the seniors something to remember.
"It meant so much to our seniors to win regionals and being a part of it and helping them get to here, it means so much to me and I'm really glad to be a part of this team," Ryenne said.
St. Teresa (18-2-2) will face Litchfield in the sectional semifinals on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in Litchfield.