Learning to lead

Young Park Hill South soccer team has one senior to lean on

The Park Hill South women’s soccer team has faced a bit of adversity so far this season, but little compares to the shortage of seniors on this year’s varsity squad.

If one was to ask any head coach, of any sports team, what was important for their team to be successful, one of the things they would tell you is that it requires leadership. Traditionally, high school sports teams have their leadership roles filled by seniors; but this year’s Park Hill South women’s soccer team will attempt to go against the status quo. This year’s South soccer squad — 4-5-1 after a 2-1 penalty kick shootout win over rival Park Hill Monday night — is not quite what it has been the past few years, at least not when looking at it from a personnel standpoint. The team has a remarkably low number of upperclassmen with five juniors and just one senior on the roster. That is a far cry from last year’s South squad, which won 14 games and advanced to the district title match before falling 2-1 to a nationally-ranked St. Teresa’s Academy team. That team featured five senior starters, all of whom also helped the Lady Panthers to a 20-win season and a state quarterfinal playoff berth as juniors in 2012. Captain and lone senior Ashton Anderson — a forward who scored her sixth goal of the season in Monday night’s win — has mixed emotions when it comes to how she feels about being the only senior on her team. “It’s fun, but it’s also scary at the same time,” she said. “It is fun being the one that everybody looks up to, but it is also a big role with a lot of responsibility. Going through the program as a freshman, you’re new to everything so you really bond with the girls in your class in particular. So it is kind of sad that they (seniors from last year’s team) all have decided not to play.” Anderson is joined at captain by juniors Erica Timmerman (defender, one goal, one assist), Anna Courtney (midfielder, eight goals, six assists) and Carli Hanlon (midfielder, two assists). All of these junior captains have been members of the varsity roster since they were freshmen. They have been around long enough and have experienced enough to know what their coach wants and what they need to do as a team to be successful. “The leadership has been pretty good because of our four captains,” sophomore Madison Sanders said. “There’s no difference really with them, they all act in a senior role,” “We have a lot of good juniors on the team,” freshman Flannery Koelliker said. “They have all been really supportive and encouraging to make sure everyone is doing their best and feels included.” The role of a captain is to keep players going when things are tough; it is easy to be a leader when you’re winning. With a record of 3-5-1 heading into this week, this team is not off to the best start, which makes their camaraderie that much more impressive. “We try to step up and set an example for everyone; in past years we had really good role model seniors, so we’ve seen what they’ve done and we just try to follow suit,” junior captain Anna Courtney said. This team’s early struggles are not attributed to any lack of leadership with the players, but with their lack of experience playing together. South coach Joe Toigo said the early games in the season were being used as an evaluation, finding the strengths and weaknesses of his younger talent to find where they best fit on the field and in the rotation. Another big piece was getting his athletes prepared and accustomed to the speed that they need to play at in games. “I am very happy with their progress and ability to play together as a team,” Toigo said. With the team’s young talent finally learning how to play with one another, Panthers fans are excited to see what their team will be able to do once playoff time comes around. “The goal is always to be as good as we can be at the end of the season,” Toigo said. And if that means a couple early losses, then so be it. Nobody on the team is happy with the slow start, but they know if winning in May means losing a few matches now, it will be worth it.