Last season was the first losing campaign in the history of the Rolla High School girls' soccer program.
And veteran Lady Bulldog head coach Mike Howard expects his squad to return to its winning ways this spring.
In addition to a slew of returning talent, the Lady Bulldogs have added some key new players to this year's squad.
Rolla is slated to open the season on Friday at Columbia against Rock Bridge High School, which has made it to the state tournament quarterfinals the past five years. The varsity game is to begin at 4 p.m.
Starting a large group of freshmen and sophomores, Rolla struggled to a 8-13-2 mark last season. The key graduation losses from that squad were senior midfielder Kendra Wood, now a member of the Missouri S&T women's soccer team, and back Taylor Tronstad.
However, with all that youth playing a year ago the Lady Bulldogs now return nine starters, including their top scorer.
"We are young," Howard said. "And we haven't been outside much at all, of course everybody is in the same boat. But I know what we have. We just need time to see them on the field. I think things look pretty bright."
In addition to the returners, an influx of talented freshman and other newcomers have added depth the squad didn't have last season. As many as four freshmen could play key roles on the varsity squad this season. And sophomores such as Amber Walters, who missed all of last season with injury, and Emily Cates are other welcomed additions.
A freshman will be in goal, as Katie Hudson is the keeper.
Three sophomores will anchor the starting back positions in Meggy Ross, London Clift and Natalie Craun.
Expected to start in the midfield are junior Aysen Malone, junior Amy Jernigan, Walters and freshman Emma Laney.
The starting forwards are junior Nicole Howard and seniors Bailey Dent and Mikaela Insall.
Others expected to see varsity action are Cates, senior Eliza Burdett and freshmen Caroline Victor and Brynn Proffitt.
Nicole Howard paced the Lady Bulldogs in scoring with 18 goals and two assists last season, but there was a big drop-off after that. Mike Howard feels the scoring attack will be much more balanced this season.
"If we get Emma and Nicole playing up top together I think we'll cause a lot of problems for people," he said. "I think we've got four or five people this year who can put the ball in the net. In the midfield and up top we have nine kids we feel we can move around. We have options; we didn't have any options last year.
"In goal we're as good as we've been in a long time with Katie. She is very confident and is talking very well. In the back we've got two kids who are very comfortable playing flat back and understand how we want to play."
Page 2 of 2 - LADY BULLDOG NOTES: Like the RHS boys' soccer team, the Lady Bulldogs will not be playing in Missouri's largest classification for the first time. RHS is in Class 2 District 10 this season, which also includes Jefferson City Helias, Marshfield and Bolivar. The Rolla boys won the district on its way to the Missouri Class 2 Quarterfinals. The Lady Bulldogs have the same goal.
Rolla will be the host team for the Class 2 District 10 Tournament, to be held May 13-18 at Kiwanis Field.
Howard says the the Springfield Glendale Lady Falcons will again be the team to beat in the Ozark Conference.
"Glendale was in the Final Four the last several years, so they have to be the favorites," Howard said. "We had our worst finish ever in the conference last year at 5-4, and all four of those losses were one-goal losses."
Howard's assistant coach this season is Amy Luna.
March 15...at Columbia Rock Bridge, 4 p.m. (varsity first)
March 19...Republic, 4:30 p.m.
March 22-23...Phelps Co. Bank Classic, 5 p.m.
March 25...West Plains, 5 p.m.
March 28...at Union, 5 p.m.
April 2...Springfield Parkview, 5 p.m.
April 4...Springfield Kickapoo, 5 p.m.
April 9...Springfield Hillcrest, 4 p.m.
April 12...at Hazelwood West, 4:30 p.m.
April 13...at Hazelwood Central, noon
April 16...at Waynesville, 5 p.m.
April 18...at Camdenton, 5 p.m.
April 20...Visitation Academy, 1:30 p.m.
April 23...at Lebanon, 5 p.m.
April 25...Joplin, 4:30 p.m.
April 27...Waynesville JV Tourney, tba
April 29...Jefferson City, 5 p.m.
April 30...at Springfield Glendale, 5 p.m.
May 3-4...Quincy (Ill.) Notre Dame Tourney, tba
May 6...Sullivan, 5 p.m.
May 7...at Jefferson City Helias, 5 p.m.
May 13-18...District Tourney, tba