ROSSVILLE – Rossville’s top two goal scorers from a season ago are no longer on the pitch.
Taylor Stonebraker, who scored 10 goals last year, has graduated, while junior Miriam Dunlap, who put six shots into the back of the net last year, moved with her family to Texas.
Replacing those two is a must for second-year head coach Adam Barrett.
“The thing is, this year we’re more athletic,” Barrett said. “We definitely have a lot more speed. You can coach skills, but speed is natural and that’s going to be a big plus for us this year.”
This year’s incarnation is full of freshman. There are 11 freshmen on the roster out of 19 total, and at least six of them are expected to be in the starting lineup.
“I see some big moments from them down the line,” Barrett said. “There are going to be some lean moments this year and they’ve got to get used to the speed of the varsity high school game but they’ve all got talent.”
But if there is one spot of stability it’s senior goalkeeper Lindsay Fife, who will start in that position for the fourth consecutive year.
“I’d argue she’s one of the better keepers in the area,” Barrett said. “I’d take her hands-down over any other keepers around. She’s physical, she’s got the touch, she controls the defense and she’s been very vocal in practice and the girls are starting to respond to that.”
Fife describes her play as ‘dirty’, but more in terms how she’s more aggressive than other goalkeepers. While she’s doing that, she’s also got to direct traffic in front of her.
“I try not to hurt anyone but sometimes it just happens that way,” Fife said. “But being a leader is a big thing. You got to go out and tell the girls what’s going on. You want to be their friend but you don’t want to be the boss.”
There are a lot of moving parts for the Hornets. Up front at forward will be junior Jessica Kyc or senior Lauralei Hutsell.
“(Kyc’s) leaps and bounds our most improved player from last year,” Barrett said. “They’ve showed me some speed and some good soccer sense. They’re getting a feel for where to go. They’re both showing me a lot this year.”
Leading the way in the midfield in the Hornets’ 4-5-1 formation will junior Kelsey Cook (three goals). Fighting for spots in the middle of that five-person group are sophomore Brooke Hughes (three goals), freshman Taylor Zink and a pair of defensive midfielders in senior Emily Virtue-Gamblin (one goal) and freshman Meleah Brown.
“Kelsey’s one of those players that can play every position,” Barrett said. “I don’t know if she’s a MVP or most versatile player. She’s a sparkplug. You can’t slow her down.”
Zink was a manager last year as an eighth-grader and scrimmaged with the team nearly every practice. Virtue-Gamblin and Brown are fighting for one spot and Barrett says the battle is neck-and-neck.
The two outside midfielders appear to be set with freshmen Sydney Hrdlicka and sophomore Alexa Hopkins, who moves there from forward.
“Sydney’s going to be a major player on the outside,” Barrett said. “As (Alexa) gets more active and gets more touches, she gets more aggressive and plays a better brand of soccer.”
The defense is such an important part of soccer success, but Barrett is going to chance it with his current intention of playing four freshmen on the back line – Megan Matzen, Megan Shaffer, Bayley Zobel and Katie Hutsell.
“The all-freshman defense is scary and exciting all at the same time,” Barrett said. “Shaffer can clear a ball 65 yards. She’s strong, aggressive and isn’t afraid to be physical. Katie Hutsell has a lot of speed. But we still got to work on technique. “
A foreign exchange student, Ulrika Ohlson, is also in the mix to play defense.
The Hornets went 3-11 last season and not only does Barrett expect an improvement, he wants to see his team finish above .500.
“Last year we had to hold back a little bit,” Barrett said. “You’re going to see a more exciting brand out of Rossville. I will be upset if we’re not above .500. It’s just that simple. From there it depends on how hard they want to play and how they adapt to the game. They will hate life if they don’t because the talent’s there.”