CHAMPAIGN — When first-year St. Thomas More girls' soccer coach James Johnson addressed his team in the preseason, he wrote a list of goals on a chalkboard. One of them was to win a regional championship, something that's never been done in school history.
"They didn't quite believe it at first," Johnson said.
After Tuesday's 3-0 win against Judah Christian in a Class 1A regional semifinal, the Sabers are a win away from crossing the ambitious goal off the list. Jade Brinkoetter scored a pair of goals and Katie Kulas added a goal and an assist for St. Thomas More (14-5-1).
"They're starting to believe," Johnson said. "They bought into it and they've put in the hard work and they're starting to see the results."
The Sabers will play Urbana Uni High in Friday's regional final. The Illineks got a hat trick from Jamie Blue and two more goals from Sarah Vaughen in a 6-2 win against Monticello in Tuesday's other semifinal. Mara Dolan had three assists for Uni (10-6-2).
"They have a solid team," said Johnson, whose Sabers are 1-0-1 against the Illineks this season. "They've got some solid players that we match up evenly against and we're expecting a tough game from them for sure. We got to see them a little bit tonight. We had the same game time so we didn't get much of a look at them."
The Sabers and Illineks played to a 1-1 draw on March 12. STM won the rematch 1-0 on March 29.
Brinkoetter's two goals on Tuesday gives her 20 for the season. She's second among area players in goals scored.
"Jade's just been huge for us all year. She's an amazingly talented player but she can't do it all," Johnson said. "We've had some other players step up this year. Ashley Cox was the leader in goals last year and this year she's playing sweeper, and she's teamed up with our defense and freshman goalie (Lexi Wallen) to get us 11 shutouts and really help us out. It's been a whole team effort and Jade gets a lot of the attention, but it's been spread all around the field."