Lady Owls try to shake bad memory
For the first four years of the Marshall girls' soccer program, there was a consistent level of respectability -- at least a .500 record in overall or NCMC play, including a playoff appearance during a 12-6-1 campaign in '99.
Since that high-water mark, though, the Lady Owls' fortunes have slid -- down to 3-18 a year ago, including 1-6 in league play to put them in the cellar for the first time ever. Hence, head coach Derek Lark -- whose boys' team reached the MSHSAA Class 2 Championships for the first time last fall -- is trying to be realistic, if still determined, in setting the modest goal "to improve from last year."
"That's asking a lot," he admitted, given that "we're still searching for who is going to best at certain positions."
With just 14 players ready for the varsity level, Lark may be may be doing a lot of juggling -- trying to find the right mix of talent and on-field chemistry. The key objective is "versatility."
"There are a lot of girls who have to adjust and play different positions," he noted. "If some of them can get comfortable playing two spots, versatility can be a strength instead of a weakness."
The primary mission for Marshall will be to reduce the 3.9 goals allowed per game a year ago. Returning sophomore goalkeeper Robyn Jennings, who stopped a solid 75.5 percent of opposing shots on goal last season, to the net is the first step.
"She's going to have a lot of weight on her, especially in the beginning," Lark said. "There's bound to be some mistakes on the back line."
That's especially likely considering that a couple of players who in the past figured in the offensive scheme are being moved to defense, like senior stopper Lynn Nelson. There's also a new sweeper in sophomore Marita McCampbell, flanked by returning starters in seniors Sara Kelly and Ashley Lewis. Junior midfielder Melissa Yokeley and sophomore defender Mirna Villatoro will also help out.
"We're going to have to play strong on defense," Lark declared. "That's asking a lot, because we don't have a lot of experience."
There's some veterans, and weapons, on the offensive end -- starting in the middle, where all-NCMC sophomore center midfielder Nicki Erickson (11 goals, five assists) returns as the leading scorer from last year's team. From the outside, senior Kayla Barr (two goals) has always had a strong shot and senior Tisha White (three goals, five assists) is a speedy playmaker who Lark said "will be able to create some opportunities."
White could also play on the outside of the forward line, with Lewis coming up to midfield. Senior wing Amy Hines can stretch defenses and junior Shondra Washington has the potential to be a finisher. Junior Sara Malan, or possibly Erickson, could score as strikers.
The Lady Owls managed just 1.3 goals per game last year, and lost two of their main producers -- Ashley Fann, an all-NCMC midfielder, and Ashley Jones -- so Lark may have to shuffle the lineup even further to get some punch. However, if Marshall can keep pressure off its own goal, then there exists the talent to put points on the scoreboard.
"There's an amazing amount of growth potential for this team," Lark claimed. "I just want them to always be competitive and never give up.
"As they say, 'Winning isn't everything, but working to win is.'"