MURRAY — Last season, the Calloway County Lady Lakers soccer team finished 9-9-1 and had an early exit from the district tournament. This season, they hope to make a deeper run.
Offensively, the Lady Lakers are returning plenty of firepower. Head Coach Jeremy Stom said they should have plenty of scoring opportunities, but the defense does have some holes to fill from last year.
“We’re returning a lot of offense,” coach Stom said. “Zoe Stom, Caroline Adams, Anna Hill, Avery Poston, Elle Carson and Kaitlyn Price, so our offense is returning. It’s the defense that we are having to replace because we lost Joza Mikulcik, Kallie Garrison, Keeli Puckett and Kirsten Houston in the middle ... but the young players are stepping up and filling those positions well.”
One thing that will help the defense out is the style of play that the offensive players like to run. Coach Stom said this group is more focused on possession and getting quality looks, rather than being a team that dumps the ball in and hopes for a player to be able to run onto it.
“I think one strength that we have is that these girls are very possession-oriented when they play the game,” coach Stom said. “So, it’s not like we’re kicking the ball long and trying to run onto it. We are going to make some passes. We are going to make a couple of 10-yard passes and work the ball up the field and try to beat the defense by moving the ball quickly and getting them out of sorts.”
In practice that has been a focal point as well and it’s a style that can be flexible based on the defensive formations that the team faces game in and game out.
“We want to possess the ball and control the game from a possession standpoint,” coach Stom said. “That can be getting it wide and crossing it in for a finish, or it can be possessing in the middle with a one-two back and forth between a couple of players to get shootout at the top of the 18 (yard box). A lot of that is going to be dictated by the formation that the opposing teams are playing. So if they are playing a formation where they are packed into the middle then we are going to get it wide and get the crosses in to try and score.”
Like many teams in the area, the Lady Lakers have plenty of younger players who will need to make an impact this year.
“We have a lot of young players that are coming up,” Hill said. “They are developing still, but we have a lot of speed and aggression back there (defensively) so I think after a lot of practice, we should be good.”
The team participated in the Murray State Racers team camp and it helped the young defenders get a taste of varsity-level competition.
“Camp was definitely good for us getting scrimmages in against high-level teams, developing our defense, and getting them used to playing the positions they play now,” Zoe said.
Another major takeaway from the camp was that the Lady Lakers have a bright future in their sophomore goalkeeper, Sunny Clark.
“She’s doing a very good job this year. She got to attend team camp this summer at Murray State and I got quite a bit of compliments on her from the coaches there,” coach Stom said. “They said she had a great work ethic. She really puts in the time trying to perfect the skill of being a goalkeeper.”
They will need her to be solid because their district is going to be tough once again this year with teams like Marshall and Graves perennially at the top.
“I think we can compete with every team in the district,” coach Stom said. “Our district every year is incredibly difficult. There are years we finish fourth in the district, and if we were in any other district in this area, we’d probably be first. I think Marshall and Graves are going to be really good. They lost some players, but they’ve got some talent returning, but you go back and look at scores from last year and we lost to Marshall 1-0 here and lost to Marshall 2-1 there in the regular season. We took Graves to penalty kicks here. The Graves game there was a little anomaly. We had Zoe get hurt that game and it messed us up in the second half because we had to adjust from missing a player and filling holes. You look at those scores and we competed with those teams, so I think we can compete with them again this year and honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if we pick up a win or two.”
The Lady Lakers will start their season today with an away game at University Heights, and much like the boys’ team, they will continue to improve as the season goes along.
“We’ve already seen so much progression even from the beginning of this year,” Zoe said.
“It’s been good for us to just practice. It’s making us so much stronger together,” Anna said.