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Promising Future: Traverse City St. Francis falls 2-0 to Freeland in D3 regional semifinals

Jun. 4—CLARE — The future is bright for the young Gladiators.

The Traverse City St. Francis varsity girls soccer team played in their first Division 3 regional semifinals game, but the outcome wasn't what they'd hoped.

"We are losing a few key seniors, but we have a young squad as far as our sophomores and juniors that move forward. We also have a good up-and-coming incoming freshman class," St. Francis head coach Scott Conway said.

After falling 2-0 to Freeland on Tuesday at the Brookwood Athletic Complex in Clare, Conway couldn't be prouder of the team's success and is excited to see where the Gladiators can go next season.

The Glads captured their first and last Lake Michigan Conference title since 2010 after going 9-0-1 in conference play, but that team was a co-op known as the Traverse City Liberty.

St. Francis hasn't had their way with conference opponents in the past; but this season, they swept Elk Rapids for the first time in over a decade and Boyne City for the first time since 2017.

"You set individual goals in your mind and, of course, you want the state championship; but in reality, there's only one team that wins that," Conway said. "For us to accomplish smaller goals like finally winning the conference title and finally getting the district trophy — Not only to host but hoist the trophy — those were goals I was hoping for and certainly ecstatic they could achieve them."

It's also the last time the LMC will be in existence as six of the eight schools are heading to the Northern Shores Conference in the fall.

St. Francis captured its first district title since the 2015-16 season as the TC Liberty, which then went on to play against Freeland in regional play.

Despite Tuesday's loss, the No. 8-ranked Gladiators racked in a 15-2-2 overall record with a promising future ahead and a majority of the team that led them to new heights still in place.

The Gladiators started the first half with good pace and speed as sophomore Riley Collins roamed up and down the field at ease. No team scored a goal in the first half, but both goalkeepers got a workout.

St. Francis' defense stood tall whenever the Falcons gained possession, and the Glads closed on the ball handler anytime she made passes or looked to advance anywhere near the penalty box. The Gladiators had several chances to score in the first half with senior Adrianna Spranger finding the crossbar from a couple yards out.

The Falcons had a goal taken away with 12:10 remaining after a penalty was called on for tripping in the penalty box, which later led to neither team keeping any possessions alive.

St. Francis had trouble winning the 50-50 possessions in the second half, and Freeland capitalized with two goals. The Falcons' two goals were scored at the 32-minute mark from a laser 30 yards away to find the back of the net. The second goal came with under five minutes to play from 10 yards away.

Tuesday's game marked the first time since their 5-2 win over Grayling on May 13 that sophomore goalkeeper Paisleigh Upshaw allowed more than two goals the whole season. Upshaw wrapped up a stellar sophomore season with nine shutouts and just 12 goals allowed.

"She is so cool in the back; and if she has to be active and become wild, she'll do it," Conway said. "She leads the defense and keeps everyone calm in the back. She makes a heck of a save now and then. She had a phenomenal year, and I couldn't be happier for her."

The Gladiators fought to keep the game alive after the first goal, but the Falcons' defense swallowed the ball anytime they were near their net. Collins had her way in the first half of roaming around the field, but the Falcons had an answer for her in the second half.

The Gladiators will return several key players such as Collins and Upshaw as well as junior Lilliana David and sophomore Sydney Peters. The Gladiators will be without now-graduated seniors Mary Kate Carroll, Grace Robinson, Spranger and Maisie Coaster next season.

With a season that has had much success without coming away with a state title, Conway can see this young group building for a successful season next year. Although he knows the climb to the top will be a challenge, the head coach and the players are looking forward to it.