One year older, one year better.
At least that’s what Thunder Mountain hopes is the case for its young girls’ soccer team in its second season.
Much like most of their counterparts in other sports, the Falcons struggled in their first year. The young Thunder Mountain program — there were no seniors on the 2010 team — failed to record a win in its inaugural season. But with a year under their belts and more bodies on the bench, this year’s team is ready to show improvement on the pitch.
“I feel like our team is better because of the experience we got last year, so now they know what they’re getting into,” co-head coach Kris Coffee said. “We also have an influx of freshmen who have played before. And our numbers are up from 14 players to a solid 18 to 20.
“Last year we had games without subs, so just having the numbers will help.”
When building a program, it certainly helps to not lose anyone to graduation. But bringing in talented freshmen and capable imports from other sports is another way to supplement the program.
One of the Falcons’ most important returnees is Katie Tarver. Tarver, a sophomore, has already adopted the role of team captain after the leadership she showed as a freshman. She said it’s nice to see the team return a year older and, hopefully, that much more improved.
“We have players this year with more experience, especially the incoming freshmen we have who know what’s going on and can really help us,” she said. “And it was nice to get some returning players from last season that understand how our coaches work and can get the freshmen going in the same routine. Then we have stronger players from other sports to help us out.”
Coffee couldn’t say enough about her star defender.
“Just having Katie back, she’s an amazing leader on the field and will once again be a major contributor,” she said. “Mentally and physically, she’s just there.”
And she’s got three more seasons to play.
“That is reassuring and gives us optimism. It gives the other girls someone to look up to,” Coffee said. “She works great with other kids. She encourages them and coaches them.
“I had one girl say, ‘I’ve been looking forward to playing with her for three years,’” Coffee continued. “That’s what we need. She’s the kind of person who will attract others to our program because she’s a great kid and a phenomenal player.”
Perhaps the most important addition to this year’s team is multi-sport athlete Jonelle Staveland. The sophomore decided to forego softball to play soccer this season, and because of her past experience in the sport, Staveland figures to contribute immediately for a team that desperately needs some offensive punch.
“I played soccer my whole life up until freshman year, and I was usually striker,” Staveland said. “It looks like we’ll be able to get a few games. Some of the freshmen coming in have been in the soccer club the last couple of years, so that should be a strong point.”
“Jonelle will help us out no matter where she plays, possibly in the midfield or forward,” Coffee added. “She’s very skilled with the ball. Her athleticism transcends all the sports she plays, and she’s just a leader out there.”
While the team hasn’t had much time to work outdoors yet, Coffee said Tarver will anchor the defense again this year, though she hopes to move her around if possible.
“We have general ideas, but we’re still looking to see what we have. We start from the back (defense) and go up from there to try and stay strong,” Coffee said. “Our philosophy is to make our defense solid before we move on to the midfield, and then the forwards. We just want to shore up the defense.”
Senior center back Destry Hansen is one of three seniors and her experience, along with the youth and talent of freshmen Rhys Coffee and Calley Odum, should help form a solid core of players for the Falcons to build around.
Gesabel Rosa is back in goal this year after showing marked improvement over the course of last season.
“Last year I was so impressed with her ability to just keep going,” Coffee said. “She really improved over the season and always had a great attitude.”
Coffee said Rosa is currently dealing with an injured toe, and the team isn’t sure of her status for the start of the season.
With the team’s first game today against Southeast powerhouse and crosstown rival Juneau-Douglas, Tarver said the Falcons are looking to show how much they’ve improved.
“The biggest thing will be learning how each other plays. We’re really young, so we don’t necessarily know each other and what positions we’ll be in,” she said. “It’s just going to take building chemistry, especially for next year since a lot of us are just freshmen and sophomores.”
Coffee said this season’s all about competing.
“We’d like to win a conference game and be competitive; be in every game. We don’t want to make it easy for any team,” she said. “Last year was hard, but it was good in a lot of ways. We started out at the bottom and we got a lot better.
“Our girls never got down, and we’re going to carry that positive outlook to this year because we can only get better.”
The Falcons and Crimson Bears kick off at 6:15 p.m. today at Thunder Mountain High School.