Coming into this season, the Pace High girls soccer team was a question mark.
Standouts Mary Kathryn Taylor and Rylee Hart -- both of whom now play for NCAA Division I programs -- graduated last spring after leading the Patriots for four seasons. Longtime head coach Joey Goodwin stepped down to take an assistant principal job at Pace.
Consider that question mark now erased.
First-year coach Amber Hayen and the Patriots have come out of the gate fast, and that momentum continued Saturday in a 2-1 victory against Catholic on the road, helping to erase doubts that the Patriots could be facing growing pains this season.
"I can't take all the credit for (Pace's success) because so many of our players play outside of school all the time," said Hayen, whose Patriots have rolled to a 6-0-1 record this season. "So, we already started out with a talented team, so that really helps. They already have the base, and we're just trying to build off of it and keep improving."
And six victories in just the second week of the season has helped boost the Patriots' confidence.
"Mary Kathryn and Rylee, they were our star players last year," said Claire Taylor, who scored the game's first goal in the 14th minute. "So we didn't think we could step up and be successful. But we've had younger players step up and everyone has just been working hard and really hustling. So I've just been really proud of everyone."
That hustle showed when Taylor scored.
Pace's Kristy Gash took control of the ball at about midfield and drove down to within about 10 yards of the goal, shaking off two defenders on the way. Gash took advantage of the hole she created in the Crusaders' defense, and hooked the ball toward the right corner of the goal. While Catholic goalkeeper Shelby Presnell made a lunging dive to deflect the shot, Taylor was right there to jab the ball into the back of the net.
"Movement off the ball, I think was our biggest thing today," Taylor said. "We were moving everywhere, just hustling to everything, running through everything. So, movement pretty much I think is what helped us most."
After Catholic forward Katie Richmond, who verbally committed to play at the University of Florida next year, tied the game 1-1 with 11 minutes left, Pace continued to use its speed to thwart the Crusaders' offense, getting in front of shot after shot.
Then, with just 9 minutes remaining, the Patriots' Jennah Dilauro scored the game-winning goal, striking a Taylor Burkhart penalty kick from within the box right at Presnell. Again, the Catholic goalkeeper lunged to make the save, but as she fell to the ground, the ball came loose from her hands to seal the win for Pace.
"Both teams played very well," Hayen said. "We knew it was going to be a competitive game because of the talent on both teams. We've got a couple of our starters out, and a lot of the girls played through injuries. So I was really proud of them that we came out on a hot day, and that they played to the very last whistle."
Catholic also was playing without some of its starters, including forward Laura Inclan and midfielder Emily Ioakim. For the Crusaders (5-1), the loss was a learning experience.
"I think Pace was able to execute," Catholic head coach Breck Smith said. "We weren't able to execute; we were missing pieces of the puzzle. But this loss doesn't defeat us at all. The girls all still have smiles on their faces and that's because to them, this was a win. This was a win for us as far as us coming together as a team to figure it out."
The Crusaders and Patriots will play each other again at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Pace.
At Gorecki-LeBeau Stadium
Pace 2, Catholic 1
Pace (6-0-1) -- Goals: Claire Taylor 1, Jennah Dilauro 1. Assists: Taylor Burkhart 1, Caroline Torrens 1. Saves: Katelyn Burkhart 10.
Catholic (5-1) -- Goal: Katie Richmond. Saves: Shelby Presnell 7.