The Newburg girls soccer team is entering their third season this spring.
Head coach Cody Martin said their biggest focus this season will be focusing on soccer IQ, as they work to build on their first two seasons.
"We're in kind of the building stages of our program," said coach Martin. "With it being the third year, I really wanna focus on our soccer IQ. In our first two years we really focused on our footwork and this year, if we can learn how to make runs off of the ball, then we'll make progress as a team. So just developing soccer IQ is our goal."
One thing that helps coach Martin in that regard is the number of his players who play at least one other sport. Because several of his players have the basic athleticism needed already, he can focus in the more specific soccer aspects.
"I'm actually blessed with a lot of natural athletes and so a lot of our newcomers to soccer are not newcomers to sports. They've played basketball, they've played softball, so they're used to programs. We already have people who already have discipline, already have an idea of what you should do to get better and that makes my job so much easier," said coach Martin. "The group that we have this year, they were already so disciplined as individuals that teaching them the game of soccer is so easy. They listen, they focus, they're actually willing to learn. When you don't have to deal with drama or disciplinary actions during the season and focus directly on the sport, you can get so much done and I think having a group that allows that to happen is very nice to have."
The heart of this team is built around a trio of seniors. Riley Guffey, Alexis Stevenson and Rena Baumer were All-District and All-Region players last season and are crucial to the continued growth of the soccer program in Newnburg.
"Those are three of our key players, they're all seniors. Riley brings a lot of leadership," said coach Martin. "She is our leader, our mentality to the team, she is our strength. Alexis brings kind of the goofy concept to the team, but she's hardworking and she loves soccer, so she has the passion for it. She can definitely bring in, when our team is stressed or when our team needs an upper, she can bring that into us and make us relax a little bit. And Rena is our goal-scorer, she's our playmaker. She has the ability to shoot from far out and she has the ability to exchange and make an assist out of something. She's a dangerous forward and a dangerous attacking player because she's got two things, she's got a shot and she's got an accurate pass. She's becoming a more complete player and I'm excited to see her this year as an even more complete player."
But those are not the only seniors on this team. There are a total of seven seniors on this year's team and Martin is excited to see how much the younger players can learn from their senior class.
"The seniors that we have this year are key. They're key to what we've been building and they're key to what we're gonna build coming up," said coach Martin. "The ability for these freshmen and sophomores to see how these seniors act off the field and how they act on the field, they're showing up to practices, they're getting better, they're committed to making this program successful, they'll be able to see if they continue with this program they can do the exact same and I think that's amazing."
Another major benefit to this season is some consistency in net. Junior Sam Mathis returns at the Lady Wolves' keeper this season and earned All-District honors last season. Coach Martin knows how important it is to have a steady keeper in front of their defense, which is built around seniors Seeley Friend, Stevenson and Page Christenson
"Our first year we had a goal keeper who struggled with diving and Sam really stepped up and was like 'I wanna try goalie out, we really need one and I wanna try it out,'" said Martin. "So in the middle of a game we threw her out on the field, no practice, nothing, and she did amazing. She was catching them, it was like she was a natural, instinctive goalie. She had a few kinks to work out, she's pretty raw on her form and her catching and diving, but you can't teach guts and you can't teach fearlessness and so as a goalie, for her to already have that, it's huge. She's diving, she wasn't afraid of collisions, so she bumped us up a lot."
But this team will not be purely built around seniors. Coach Martin thinks he has several freshmen that will play important roles this season.
"We have a couple of freshmen this year (that can make an impact). We have Grace Affolter, she is going to be our speed. I haven't decided where to put her yet because she is so fast, I wanna use that to our asset, but she's gonna have a lot of contributions to the team," said coach Martin. "We have Issy as well, Issy Bramel, she's very instinctive in soccer because she always looks for the space, she always looks for the open space and wants to go there. As a soccer player, that's a good thing to have, you don't want to go to where everybody is clustered. So I think she'll contribute with passing, as well as our defensive formation. She won't get much in the offense, but she'll definitely be there."
Speed from players like Affolter will play a major role on this team. The Lady Wolves will focus on playing strong defense and then using their speed to turn defensive stops into goals on the other end.
"I would say a lot of our goals will probably come from counters," said coach Martin. "We have speed, which is what we lacked last year. So we'll kinda be more of a defensive shaped team, but whenever it's time to go, whenever it's time to step up and move up the field, we do that as a unit."
In their third season, Newburg is hoping to build on all of the experience they've learned over the last two seasons. They played in a myriad of close ballgames last season and coach Martin hopes they learned from those games, especially.
"I think having that experience of getting that game-like pressure and that game time pressure of you have to perform or else your team won't come out successful, getting that experience in as sophomores and as juniors, rather than as a senior is going to be extremely beneficial to us," said coach Martin. "This year when it counts, whenever we go into penalty shootouts, we're gonna have that experience under our belts and we're going to be able to breathe, take it easy and be composed better than we were in the past."
Coach Martin is looking forward to opening the season against a cross-town rival in St. James, but one of the games he's looking forward to the most is a rematch against Owensville. Their match against Owensville last season was an important game in their season.
"Another big one is Owensville and I say that because last year we had a big eye-opener," said coach Martin. "So we walk into their field and they've got a huge track team running around their field, they've got their turf field and it's a beautiful atmosphere and we kind of almost belittled ourselves a little bit by going 'how, this is a huge school. They have nice equipment, they look official.' We got a little bit intimidated from that, but we actually pulled out a win in that game, so it was an eye-opening experience for them last year to realize that they may be a bigger team and they may have better equipment but drills are drills and touches are touches. If they have a bigger team, then they have less touches in a practice. We have a small team, we have lot of touches in a practice, we get a lot of experience in that practice, that's why we have to keep it serious. That mentality of don't get intimidated by bigger teams was a big asset to learn last year."
Newburg is still growing on the pitch, so coach Martin isn't as focused on the win total as he is on improving and building the program. On top of that, he's looking forward to creating memories with this group.
"Just the memories. Soccer is a short season, but it's physically demanding, so you have to have a couple of laughs or else you're going to be mentally or physicality burnt out. In England, they have one game a week. In America, we have two or three games a week, so the body is overloaded. I feel like what I want to get out is players who are wanting to play in college, they get to that level, because they want to get to that level and we have a few of them that are really considering it," said coach Martin. "Another thing that I want to get out of this season is just being able to build, always build as a program. We were 3-14-1 in the first season, 6-10-1 the next season and I want to be around .500 for this season and next year will probably be a rebuild year, but I want to stay around .500. So as a team goal, we have to continually work and focus in practice.
Newburg has a jamboree against St. James, Belle and Sullivan on Saturday, Mar. 18 and opens their regular season against St. James on Monday, Mar. 20.