A thorn still sticks in the collective side of Lawrence High’s girls soccer team. It has for two seasons now.
It’s the thorn of falling one game short of the state tournament — again. The Lions lost, 1-0, against top-seeded Washburn Rural in last year’s Class 6A regional final, just as they did the year before.
Now, fourth-year LHS coach Matt Anderson thinks he has the team that can ease that thorn out and soothe away the sting of those last two seasons.
“We’ve been very patient with how we were going to build the program,” Anderson said. “The combination with experience and talent is finally where it needs to be.”
Anderson’s Lions return seven starters off a team that nearly vaulted itself into the state tournament for the first time in school history and finished with the most victories (eight) of any LHS team Anderson has coached.
The Lions are led by five seniors: Megan Andrews, Becky Davis, Stefanie Stuever, Heather Miller and Emma Lumpe.
Andrews will play outside right wing, while Davis will hold a midfielder position. Miller is expected to anchor the defense this season, bringing a level of calmness to the backline with her footwork skills.
Stuever, meanwhile, provides vocal leadership from her center midfielder position, and Lumpe returns once again as the team’s starting goalkeeper
In the junior class, Kaley Tesdahl, Olivia Dykes and Kristy Gerard should see action as starters.
Sophomore Marley Sutter returns to her spot as a goal-scorer at forward, and sophomore Kendyll Severa will play center defense.
At Free State High, coach Jason Pendleton may have one of the youngest varsity teams he ever has coached. Of the 20 players on the Firebirds’ roster, 15 are sophomores or younger.
Because of that youth factor, Pendleton said he was trying to teach the principles of Free State soccer — such as understanding the importance of work ethic — from the ground up. That doesn’t mean he’s willing to sacrifice this season for the future.
“Even though we’re young, they are better than we’ve had in the past,” Pendleton said. “We know we lack some experience, but we’re not going to use that as an excuse. We’re going to try to win games on Day One.”
The team returns just one senior in Courtney Moore, who has been with the Firebirds since her freshman year.
Pendleton said he hoped Moore could provide a bridge from an unpleasant past, which included a 5-12 season last year, to a pleasant future.
The Firebirds return several important juniors to the team as well. Grace Lang, an all-state defender from last season, returns after missing part of the season due to an injury.
Hannah Carlson will play attacking midfielder, Caroline Mayhew should provide athleticism in the field, and Mckenzie Liebl will play the back defensive line.
Sophomores Annie Libeer and Hillary Yoder are expected to play roles in Free State’s starting 11, while Amanda Moyer and Rachael Hodison should see time as well.
Free State is young, no doubt, but Pendleton said he thought that could be a good thing.
“Maybe they’ll have a short memory,” he said, “and they don’t know about our shortcomings in the past, and they just want to be good right now and are working hard.”
At Seabury Academy, first-year coach Ivo Ivanov said he had been pleasantly surprised by the spirit and willingness to learn the game of soccer displayed by his 14 varsity players this season.
Ivanov will look to seniors Bria Phipps and Arielle Spiridigliozzi to help lead the way this season. Phipps should provide the Seahawks’ biggest offensive weapon at forward, while Spiridigliozzi will anchor the team from her goalkeeper position. Ivanov called Spridigliozzi the vocal leader.
Freshman Hannah Spomer’s quickness will be used at the right wing or right midfield position, and Lara Thompson’s soccer smarts should help her lead the defense this season. Ivanov also said he would use the versatility of freshman Alyson Oliver to put her in different positions on the field, depending on circumstance.
Among other players that Ivanov is counting on this season are: Lexi Brady, Raquel Dominguez, Emilie and Elizabeth Padgett, Taylor Sweeney and Whitney Simons.
The aim in Ivanov’s first season is less about winning and more about helping players develop a love for soccer.
“I want them to come back and understand the beauty of the game and how wonderful it is when everything comes together,” Ivanov said. “It could be just like music, and they all love music, so I think they will enjoy it as the season goes on.”
Seabury will begin its seven-game season on April 7 at Hyman Brand.
Lawrence kicks off March 31 at the McPherson Tournament.
Free State, meanwhile, starts the season at 6:15 p.m. today at Washburn Rural.