Beginning the 2015 soccer season with a roster that includes 11 seniors and nine returning letter-winners might be a bit deceiving.
That is the situation that describes the OTHS Lady Panthers as they start their campaign next Wednesday in the MEL tournament.
Head coach Craig Dippel is tentatively optimistic as to what the numbers might mean for his squad; however, several questions must be answered before a clear picture of this year’s Panthers can come into focus.
“Our squad does include a lot of seniors, but, on the other hand, we do not return experience in several key areas,” Dippel said. “Most of our returnees are defenders and midfielders which should make us a very solid defensive team. Questions marks include our offense consistency. We do not have an established scorer returning. Instead, we are going to depend on a group of attackers.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
One positive characteristic Dippel has been able to identify in the limited time the team has been able to practice outdoors is the squad’s cohesiveness—a quality he believes his Panthers will carry into the rugged Southwestern Conference schedule.
“It’s obvious with this group that they play very well as a unit,” Dippel explained. “Our seniors are an especially close knit which, combined with the absence of a dominant scorer in our lineup, should work to our advantage in that teams will not be able to focus on just one player. We are working to have a balanced scoring attack and being very aggressive and dominating on defense.”
Hannah Averick, Michaela Drouin and Elaine Gorom will fill defender positions. All three seniors have earned multiple varsity letters during their careers. Elissa Porath will also figure into the mix on the defensive end of the field.
At midfield, the Panthers will rely on senior Alyssa Delia and Becca Coutoure to ignite an offensive attack headed by senior forwards Tori Weiss and Taylor Signore. Dippel also named junior KK Voelker as another player who will see significant playing time as a midfielder and forward.
“We definitely have a number of experienced players capable of spearheading our attack,” Dippel said. “We will see who steps up in our opening tournament games to provide the spark we need to compete successfully as the season progresses.”
Junior Sydney Brake has been tabbed as the Panther goalkeeper when they take the field next week against the winner of the Rochester-Alton Marquette preliminary round game. Sophomores Claire Hoover and Bri Honma will provide backup for Brake in the net.
Edwardsville is the prohibitive favorite in the Southwestern Conference race for 2015. The Tigers advanced to the super-sectional round last spring and return the majority of their starters from that squad. Collinsville also starts the season with a full complement of returning players. Dippel sees his Panthers as one of a group that will include Belleville East, Belleville West and Alton all contending for one of the top spots in league play.
“Every game is a battle in the Southwestern Conference, so we will need to play with consistency and effort in order to remain in the hunt,” Dippel said. “We really have not had a lot of time to prepare due to the weather conditions in the preseason. Everybody is in the same situation. Having the number of returning players on our team should give us an advantage at the start of the campaign. Our girls’ job is to keep the momentum and positive vibes going as we go deeper into the season.”