Less than 24 hours had passed since the Mexico girls soccer team’s 4-3 loss to Wright City in the Class 2 District 8 Tournament semifinals before a series of texts rolled into Lady Bulldogs head coach Haley Schafer’s phone.
Her team was already itching to return to the pitch and prepare for next season.
Mexico finished the 2018-19 season 7-15-2, but there was already excitement for the next year. The Lady Bulldogs would have 16 seniors in the 2019-20 season — many of them have received major minutes since their freshman year — and play on a brand new turf field.
This year would be the culmination of all their hard work and Mexico would take the next step.
The Lady Bulldogs haven’t won double-digit matches since 2012.
“This is a team that has found themselves in some pretty big games,” Schafer said. “A couple of district championships and some close conference games too. They had some big goals this season.”
Senior Rosanna McKeown was a significant part of Mexico’s high hopes this spring. McKeown is the biggest offensive threat on the squad, tallying 17 goals and 11 assists as a junior. She’s been a starter since her freshman year and has 36 goals and 31 assists in three years.
“When you think about scouting our team, (Rosanna) is definitely one of the people who you’re preparing for defensively,” Schafer said. “You’re setting up some of your play and some of your fields around the way Rosanna plays.”
McKeown earned all-district, all-conference and all-region honors each of the past two seasons. This year, she had plans to take the next step: all-state.
The Lady Bulldogs practiced on their new turf field for the first time March 16.
In hindsight, it was a symbolic practice.
“It was honestly a pretty magical moment,” Schafer said. “We all step on the field at the same time and they just start running around … like little kids at the park for the first time.”
Mexico announced that morning that the girls soccer jamboree at Southern Boone was canceled. By then there were murmurs of the Mexico School District suspending in-person classes and activities due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ultimately, that Monday afternoon would be the Lady Bulldogs’ last practice this season. Schools closed that week and waiting ensued.
Then on April 9, MSHSAA officially canceled all spring athletics and activities hours after Gov. Mike Parson announced schools would remain closed for the rest of the academic year. Any chance of Mexico taking a leap this year was over.
The question of who would score the first goal on Mexico’s new field would have to wait.
“I was pretty sad because we’ve known for the past few weeks that there’s a chance that we wouldn’t get to play any games this season,” McKeown said. “But as a team, I think the thing that was really helping to hold us together was knowing that there was still a chance. We were making sure that for all of us, everyone stayed hopeful and kept working on things since we still had a chance of playing.”
McKeown has had several siblings go through the soccer program at Mexico. She won’t have that culminating senior night like they had. Neither will the 15 other seniors on this team.
“Obviously with 16 seniors, this was supposed to be a pretty strong year for us,” McKeown said. “Missing out on that opportunity to kind of have our last year for a lot of us and show what we can do has been pretty hard for people.”
McKeown had an opportunity to wallow in self-pity after the news. Who would blame her? McKeown’s last high school soccer season was taken from her. She misses her teammates and wanted this senior class to have its moment.
But there is strength in moving forward. McKeown understands that in a canceled season there is still room for personal growth. This time it comes off the field as she reflects on her career.
“My freshman year, there were a lot of seniors that I really looked up to as players,” McKeown said. “As I got older in the program, I really wanted to be that person for other people. Hopefully, the way I played last year and the way all the seniors of this class are handling the situation right now is just going to be a good example for the younger players.”
McKeown hopes the underclassmen learn from this experience and come out on the other side with a whole new respect for the game and the ability to handle adversity.
McKeown hasn’t completely moved on, but she is turning her focus to how to make her future brighter — even if that doesn’t include soccer anymore. McKeown plans to attend Benedictine College next year and run cross country and track.
Getting ready for that is the new goal.