Repeat Feet: Veteran squad to lead Lady Wolves' state title defense
The departure of club players, an annual right of passage for Plano West girls soccer.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the 2013 season: nothing.
The departures were almost non-existent, meaning the Lady Wolves' roster of 21 features 19 returners from last season's Class 5A State Championship team (with senior Maddie Hover and junior Rachel Grout the lone additions) and 12 seniors.
"We have a group of girls that had so much fun going all the way last year," said Carley Phillips, West head coach, "so there wasn't really a lot of convincing to be done, they wanted to come back and do it all again."
That continuity has been devastating for opponents thus far with West posting a 10-0 mark and ascending to No. 1 in the Elite Soccer Report national poll.
"That's a great achievement," Phillips said. "But we don't really talk about it because the girls know this is a long season and what we want is to be peaking toward the end of the season."
While not focusing on rankings, Phillips has been pleased with early results.
"We haven't gotten out to too many strong starts in the past, so this has been a refreshing change of pace," the second-year head coach said. "We've been scoring a bunch of goals and getting shutouts too; our team just looks a lot more mature."
West started the season with a 4-0 run at the National Elite Prep Showcase in Fort Worth (Jan. 10-12) and 3-0 swing through the Allen Soccer Showcase (Jan. 17-19).
West beat host team Fort Worth Nolan (4-1), Flower Mound (3-1) and San Angelo Central (6-0) in the opening weekend, but its marquee victory undoubtedly came in a 2-1 decision over St. Thomas Aquinas (Florida), which entered the match 19-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country. West goals came from seniors Casie Ramsier and Taylor Jackson.
"We have a strong team back and wanted to start with a challenging schedule," Phillips said. "Look at Aquinas, that was a really quality team there."
In addition to victories over Sachse (2-0) and Skyline (6-0) in Allen, West faced another nationally-ranked challenge in No. 3 Flower Mound Marcus, with the former district foes facing off at the new Eagle Stadium.
"That game showed why West and Marcus are among the top teams in the nation," said Kevin Albury, Allen head coach. "That could be the state championship."
West won, 2-0, with seniors Brooke Ramsier and Gabby Hadly tickling the twine.
"I think the Marcus game was even bigger than Aquinas," Phillips said. "Especially considering how we ended last season against them (a 3-2 shootout win in the regional finals)."
West is no longer in the same district as the Lewisville ISD teams, but in 10-5A with Plano Senior, Plano East, Allen, McKinney and McKinney Boyd.
While West won state last season, it did not win its district.
The Lady Wolves have plenty of veterans to accomplish that task this season, starting with senior goalkeeper Claire Wheatley. The defense in front of Wheatley is largely the same with seniors Midori Rinkliff, Sparky Fischer and Jackson returning. The newcomer is junior Jalynn Barron, who was up top last season but has moved to right back, a position she verbally committed to play for Texas.
"We used Jalynn there for one playoff game last season because of an injury," Phillips said, "and we got a great glimpse of what she could do."
In the midfield are Brooke Ramsier and senior Taylor Barg as well as Grout and sophomore Kiley Burns. There is youth up top too with Casie Ramsier at forward along with junior Tori Gates, sophomores Ashley Smith and Nicole Smith.
Ashley Smith scored four goals in West's win over SA Central.
"Ashley is a big target for us up top," Phillips said. "She holds the ball nicely and has a knack for getting to the goal."
That is something the majority of the team has shared early in the season.
"You always want to be more aggressive in that final third, more creative with the attacks and not so up and down," Phillips said. "But the girls have been doing a good job of scoring goals against good teams; we've already had games that would have been 1-0 last year that maybe we're winning 2-0 this year."
That is precisely the score West beat Georgetown, Belton and San Antonio Johnson by over the weekend at the Lady Governor's Cup in Georgetown. Having finished pre-district tournaments, the Lady Wolves will travel to Coppell (6 p.m. Friday) and host Ursuline (7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Kimbrough Stadium) before starting district Feb. 12 and continuing its quest to fulfill the team's 2013 slogan: repeat.
"At this stage it's all about progression," Phillips said. "Getting better each weekend, each game and building on that."