Girls' Soccer Preview: Greene Co.'s youth key in inaugural season
By BRANDON HURLEY
The lines are chalked, the nets pulled tight, jerseys pressed and cleats laced.
The next chapter of the “Beautiful Game” AKA soccer has descended upon Greene County.
A bubbling youth soccer system forced the Rams to withdraw from sports sharing agreements and create a program to call their own, both boys and girls.
The inaugural season begins April 2 with a doubleheader in Grand Junction on the old high school football field.
The Monday evening kick-off marks the commencement of months of fundraising, landscaping, convincing and teaching.
On the girls side, a veteran coach leads a slew of athletes with high-caliber experience of their own.
More than 20 girls enrolled into the first-ever soccer program, bringing with it excitement and anxiety for the initial season. Soccer is a sport that welcomes all shapes and sizes and all athletic abilities. It brings together friends and foes on a grass field requiring just a soccer ball. That’s part of what Greene County head coach Marilyn Tasler feels is a big draw.
“It’s a (sport) that you don’t have to be the fastest and you don’t have to be the tallest one,” the former Westwood, Sloan varsity coach said. “You don’t have to jump the highest and you’re always moving.
It’s just a good sport for everybody.”
Together with the boys program, the two teams make up 50 student athletes, a sizable turnout for a rural school the size of Greene County. Tasler has been through a start up before, engineering programs in Pocahontas and in Sloan. She spent four years with the varsity program at Westwood.
She picked up coaching 23 years ago, green as can be, helping out her son’s team. She took a few classes and learned by doing along the way. Now, she’s here two decades later hoping to turn a young program into a success story.
Of course, the goals and victories won’t come easy in year one. It’ll take some patience and cooperation, as the girls become acclimated with each other. Many have never played together on the same field, so it’s a matter of feeling each other out.
“Probably the biggest challenge is getting it organized,” Tasler said. “You have a lot of different levels. Because some of these girls have played a lot with each other while others haven’t.
So you have a lot of different levels that you have to figure out where to go and how to do it. You just kind of start from scratch and see where they go.”
A small group of athletes spent the last few seasons garnering significant playing time for the Boone squad, including all-conference goalkeeper Bailey Cunningham, Kirsten and Kassie Lamoureux, Ashlee Harmeyer, Aubrey Heupel and Emma Schroeder.
Cunningham led all of 3A in saves last spring, halting a staggering 337 shots for an 87.2 save percentage, as a freshman.
Sophomore Kassie Lamoureux scored five goals during her freshman campaign, the third best total on the team.
Having that talent pool to draw from should provide a significant boost heading into the spring schedule, Tasler said.
“Their (leadership) will definitely (help),” the coach said. “I think all but one of those girls that played at Boone have played for me since they were probably 10 years old.”
With just a few weeks of practice under their belts, Tasler has had limited time determining where this team is headed. But she is keen on one thing, and that’s the Rams’ natural athleticism. Size doesn’t necessarily matter a whole lot in soccer, she said.
“We’re not tall, but I think their knowledge of the game is going to be a big part of this team,” Tasler said. “We do have a little bit of speed. Which is going to help.”
Combine that with a dedication to the craft, a desire to improve and take the next step is a good building block.
“They are quick to pick things up,” Tasler said. “They’re smart kids. You don’t have to run through things multiple times and they’re willing to work.”
That varsity-tested core will be key in an insanely brutal Heart of Iowa Conference, a league which lays claim to three state qualifiers from a year ago.
North Polk, Gilbert and Nevada were all ranked in the top five in the final 2017 rankings and each reached the 1A state tournament last spring. North Polk and Nevada both advanced to the semifinals while Davenport Assumption captured the state championship with a 3-0 victory over Center Point-Urbana.
Assumption (19-2) was undefeated in Class 1A play, with their only two losses to 3A’s Bettendorf and 2A’s North Scott.
Gilbert (16-4 last spring), scored 115 goals, which ranked them first in 1A by a wide margin (19 more than Denver) while Nevada’s 84 goals were sixth in the state. Gilbert gave up a mere 10 goals while North Polk only surrendered 12, in addition to 13 allowed by Nevada. The three Heart of Iowa Conference schools ranked 1-2-3 in defensive efficiency. The top four goal scorer’s in the league all graduated last spring, leaving Nevada’s Maddie Stevens as the top offensive weapon in the league with 11 goals scored.
The cream of the crop of Class 1A will test Greene County right out of the gates. It’s a good opportunity for a program in its infancy, Tasler said.
“My goal is to go .500 when we play against those teams. You have to learn from them, that’s all there is to it,” the coach said. “We’re lucky because we’ve got a couple of teams that are just starting like us, so that hopefully will be a good morale boost for us. But you learn by playing better kids.”
The Rams lost their opener 2-1 to Humboldt April 2 while the match against the following night against Kuemper was rescheduled to April 24. Their next game is tonight (April 5) at 7 p.m. at eighth-ranked Gilbert. They stay on the road Friday (April 6) as they take on Perry.