By GREG MENGELT
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
Over the past couple of seasons, Providence has had veterans who have led the Pioneers to back-to-back Class A state championship appearances.
All the while, the young talent was contributing in minor roles.
Players like Jordan Reger, Alyssa Jones and Sarah Posante have taken a back seat to Casey Marlin, Leah Mattingly and the Providence leaders in the past.
Now it’s their turn.
“They had the luxury or the good fortune to learn from some tremendous examples,” Providence coach Dave Smith said. “It remains to be seen how that will pan out on the field, but I have confidence in these young kids. I guarantee you this group will compete.”
Reger, Jones and Posante, who are all juniors, are joined by seniors Rachel Wells and Katelyn Koopman and goalkeeper Autumn Meyer, who has signed to play at IUPUI following her senior season, to form what should be another formidable Pioneer squad.
“We expect to compete in every match,” Smith said. “Our primary objectives are to challenge ourselves every day, to reach our potential as a team, and to always have fun.”
Along with losing Mattingly, who was the 2012 News and Tribune Player of the Year, the Pioneers also will have to replace graduates Erin Duncan, Katie Barron and Maryashley Betz. Kasey Wallace, who scored a team-high 17 goals as a junior last season, also is out for the season with an injury.
Providence has a tough schedule again in 2013, including tilts against local powers Floyd Central and New Albany, state powers Guerin Catholic, Lawrenceburg and New Castle, and Louisville powerhouses Manual, North Oldham, Mercy Academy and Christian Academy.
“If we can survive the regular season, we should be well-prepared for October,” Smith said of the postseason.
Of course, the biggest news is the postseason ahead for Providence. After winning the Class A state title in 2011 and being Class A state runners-up a year ago, the Pioneers move up to Class 2A due to the IHSAA’s new success factor point system.
“I would say that the vision and the expectations the last two years were more on a regional or state scale because we felt like we could go deep in the tournament, and as it turned out, we did,” Smith said. “This year, certainly our expectation is still to win a sectional. To do that against the competition we have here locally would be a great achievement than the sectionals we’ve won the last two years.
“It’s different than the last two years. But with that said, it’s the same as it was the decade-plus before that. So it’s not insurmountable odds, but we know it’s going to be tougher.”
It could be a rough start for first-year Pirate coach Keith Kimmel, who takes over a program that graduated 10 seniors. Half of the Charlestown players have never played soccer before this season.
“The team is stocked full of girls new to soccer or have only played a couple of seasons of recreational soccer,” Kimmel said, “but all have a great desire to learn and give their best effort during practice.
“The girls need to keep themselves in every game and not get discouraged. Being a rebuilding year, I want to be competing in every game and improve as the season progresses. Also, the girls need to support each other and keep pushing each other in a positive way.”
Charlestown has four returning starters in senior Katie Navetta, junior Tapanga Larson and sophomores Sara Rutowski and Delaney Smith.
Christian Academy returns nine starters from a team that went 3-8 a year ago. With nine starters returning, the Warriors are a mix of experience and youth.
Sophomore Brittany Albert returns after scoring a team-best 10 goals a year ago and fellow sophomore Amy Leffler gives CAI more offensive punch.
Junior Abbey Butler had 117 saves last season and returns as the Warriors’ keeper.
“[The 117 saves] means either she’s a really good goalie or we weren’t very good defensively,” CAI coach Brett O’Loughlin said. “It was a little bit of both. I’d like to think that we’re going to be a little bit stronger defensively. We’ve shored up some problems there. Offensively is still yet to be determined.”
With the loss of six valuable seniors, the Highlanders are trying to find their best lineup entering 2013.
“We have changed some positions on some players trying to get our best 11 on the field at one time, so it might take us a while to gel,” Floyd coach Lewie Stevens said.
Led by Indiana State signee and leading scorer Lauren Wyatt, the Highlanders will have plenty of talent. The All-Hoosier Hills Conference senior is joined by classmates Ellie Stewart, Jessica Coryell, Mckenzie Fell, Kelsey Shireman and Molly Yothers, along with some skilled newcomers.
“I think most local soccer people will feel that this is a bit of a rebuilding year for us, [but] I don't really agree,” Stevens said. “I'm hoping that we might have the ability to surprise some opponents. Our key is to stay as healthy as possible. We already have a couple players out for the season and others nursing some nagging injuries.”
With seven returning starters and a pair of talented freshmen, Jeff hopes to build on a 2012 campaign that was one of its best in years.
Devan Carrier leads a group of six seniors that looks to continue to make an impact on the Red Devil program.
“Last season was better than the season before and now we have to take the next step to prove we can compete and win against teams in our conference and teams in our area,” Jeff coach Scott Epley said. “We need to develop over the season to be ready to compete against them. Our work will not be easy, and it takes a team to accomplish our goals. We look like that team right now, but the season has yet to begin.”
Epley said he’s seen an increase in offseason activity among his players, led by captains Hannah Scott, Beka Harris and Carrier.
“This offseason the team proved that the girls were willing to sacrifice their time and condition and practice so we can accomplish our season goals,” Epley said. “Our captains took the initiative and got on the horn to get everyone to come out and participate. For the first time over the last three years, the players were dedicated to showing up and working.”
New Albany is coming off of its first sectional title in school history and has nine returning varsity contributors.
However, the Bulldogs will be without all-conference performers Tanner Marcum, Phoebe Bauer and keeper Kaelin Blessinger. Coach Julie Deuser also left to take an assistant coach position at Hanover College.
Still, first-year Bulldog coach Tim Quakenbush believes the Bulldogs can contend for a second straight sectional crown.
“Expectations are high,” Quakenbush said. “The girls had a great summer with voluntary workouts and three scrimmages and showed a lot of potential.”
Stephanie and Selena Iglesias return in the New Albany midfield and lead a strong senior class that includes Rachel Bowden and Miranda Duffy as outside backs.
“Our goal is simple: Improve every day as a player and as a team,” Quakenbush said. “We obviously have other goals as well, but everything starts with this one simple concept and the girls have taken to the concept very well. They are a terrific group of kids that are very close. The senior captains are doing a great job with leadership and building team chemistry.”
Silver Creek lost five starters from last year’s 8-8-1 team. But with sophomore Olivia Scarbrough returning, the Dragons have high expectations.
Scarbrough scored 18 goals and had eight assists as a freshman and will be aided by Shelby Shultz and Alexis Barnett, who combined for 11 goals a year ago.
“I think we have a chance to compete for [the Mid-Southern] conference [title],” Creek coach Patrick Anderson said. “We feel like we can have a winning record.”
The toughest shoes to fill will be those of goalkeeper Sydney Ledwedge. That job will belong to first-year player Hannah Mattingly. Mattingly is one of four first-year Dragons expected to contribute.
“They’re athletes,” Anderson said. “They could definitely have an impact.” Like Providence, Silver Creek will move up to Class 2A for the postseason.
“Moving up to 2A, our goal is to win a sectional game,” Anderson said. “This is my third year and we haven’t won a sectional game yet.”