Almost any other ending would be better this time around.
For each of the past two years, a star-studded Park Hill team won the Class 4 District 16 championship game and advanced to the state quarterfinals only to come up agonizingly short against St. Teresa’s Academy. The returning corps hopes to follow a similar path this season, only this time find a way to improve the finish.
“We were definitely disappointed these last two years with the results we had in quarterfinals,” said Park Hill junior right back Chais Wright, an all-region defender who scored 10 goals to go with four assists as a sophomore. “I think it’s going to be a big team effort from the offense and defense, but with losing our seniors, it’s going to be different.”
Park Hill must fill in to replace five seniors and six total losses from last year’s rotation, plus deal with a beefed up schedule in the Suburban Conference Gold Division. The holes show up in all levels of the formation.
However, the Trojans have plenty of continuity and cohesiveness to build around, too.
Jenna Winebrenner, the top returning senior, anchors the center of defense, already with three all-state seasons to her credit. The Notre Dame signee also enjoyed her best season yet contributing to the attack with career-highs of 13 goals and 10 assists in 2016.
In addition, Park Hill’s defense set a state record with 23 shutouts during a 25-4 season — the most wins in a season in program history. The backline must replace all-state performer Haley Buckholz and Madi Massa, while midfielders Raena Woodruff, Taylor Buckholz and Sam Paulak were instrumental to the defense from their midfield spots.
Paulak, an all-state selection as a junior, will not play after suffering repeated concussions in previous seasons.
“We play well together; we know our strengths and weaknesses, and we’re not afraid to tell each other if somebody needs to be doing something different,” said junior goalkeeper Kelbey Emerson, a two-time choice as Red Division goalkeeper of the year before Park Hill moved up to the Gold Division.
While Winebrenner, Wright and Emerson will headline the defense, junior forward Alison Walls comes back after leading Park Hill’s offense in all categories. She scored 27 goals to go with 12 assists, not missing a game despite an offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL.
Paulak played a solid two-way midfield 10 goals and 12 assists, and Park Hill’s top creative midfielder and secondary forward option Bella Catano will also be gone. Sarah Hibbeler (12 goals, six assists) and Ayana Weissenfluh (12 goals, 11 assists) — both sophomores — split time in the starting lineup last year and will be counted on as consistent performers this year.
Park Hill coach Brandt Bell also expects Aleece Noble on defense to inherit a more important role, while Andie Powell, Meg Feeley and Kylie Aulgar will stay in the rotation.