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Joyful Start: TC St. Francis blanks Elk Rapids, 3-0, to start 2024 season

Apr. 4—ELK RAPIDS — The Traverse City St. Francis varsity girls soccer program can start the 2024 season with a smile.

It's been two seasons since the Gladiators had a reason to smile after the opening game, but Thursday proved to be different.

Sophomore Riley Collins and goalkeeper Paisleigh Upshaw have even bigger smiles after helping the Gladiators (1-0, 1-0 Lake Michigan) start the season with a 3-0 shutout against Elk Rapids on Thursday, despite being outshot 19 to five.

"Riley is a scrapper and not afraid to get in there and hit that ball," St. Francis head coach Scott Conway said when talking about Collins' two-goal performance.

Thursday marked the first time the Gladiators defeated the Elks since 2019, but St. Francis did more than defeat Elk Rapids. The Gladiators handed Elk Rapids (0-1, 0-1 Lake Michigan) their first home shutout in two seasons and snapped their 23-game regular season winning streak against Lake Michigan Conference opponents.

"Elk Rapids has always been the pinnacle," Conway said.

With the Lake Michigan Conference coming to a close at the end of the spring season, Conway has hopes for the team to make school history.

Thursday marked the first of two final meetings between the Elks and Gladiators as Lake Michigan Conference members because six of the eight LMC schools — including Elk Rapids — will join the Northern Shores Conference in the fall, effectively ending the nearly 30-year run of the LMC.

"We've never won a conference title before. It's always been Elk Rapids or Boyne City for a long time," Conway said. "We're hoping to change that as our last year in the conference."

The Gladiators welcome Boyne City on Monday for their home opener.

With it being the final year for the Elks and Gladiators in the Lake Michigan Conference, both squads started with a young lineup who want to be remembered as the last team to have won the conference.

Elk Rapids head coach Andrea Krakow embarked on her 18th season at Elk Rapids on Thursday and noted since her first season, the competitiveness throughout the LMC has grown.

"St. Francis was very competitive last season and has carried it on this year," Krakow said. "It is anyone's ball game, and (St. Francis) is at the top, but we will see. We have 17 more games to go."

Elk Rapids started the season with holes to fill in its lineup after several players from their Division 3 state semifinals run graduated, including defender Lily Morton, all-state second-team goalkeeper Jorja Jenema, and 2023 Record-Eagle girls soccer Player of the Year and all-state first-team striker Lauren Bingham.

Elk Rapids freshman Natasha Beebe started in net and held her own for a chunk of the first half. The Gladiators began the match with the defenders applying pressure on the Elks' forwards and forced Elk Rapids to play to their style.

St. Francis' junior Lilianna David put the Gladiators ahead 1-0 with 21:54 left. Collins added to the score with a goal at the 16:30 mark after a bounce that went her away.

Collins' second goal to put the Gladiators ahead 3-0 came off a breakaway with 10 minutes remaining.

The Elks had a plethora of chances to score, but Upshaw held her own for the two halves.

"Paisleigh is a lot of fun to watch," Conway said smiling.

Elk Rapids had several chances to break the shutout in the second half, but Upshaw stepped up to the challenge in keeping the shutout alive.

Elk Rapids senior Kendall Standfest was given a penalty kick with four minutes to play with a chance to get on the board, but her shot was blocked.

Standfest got the rebound off the block on the right side, and Upshaw quickly maneuvered to the opposite side to collect the ball. Upshaw, with several minutes to play, blocked several more shots before the clock expired.

"It's great because it has been a goal of ours for so long," Upshaw said on getting the shutout.

Krakow said the team has some work to do as the season progresses since the Elks have a mixture of experienced and inexperienced players on the roster.

"They've got to learn to work together and trust each other. It's tough when you lose, but they'll get it," Krakow said.

Elk Rapids hopes to get back on track as they travel to Traverse City West on Saturday.