The St. James girls soccer team is in the next stage of their rebuild this season, as they welcome Abbi Moreland in her first season as head coach.
Coach Moreland wasn't shy about what she what's to improve on this season.
"More wins," said Moreland with a laugh. "I was the assistant coach last year, so I'm familiar with the girls and stuff. We just really wanna work on scoring more and improving our defense. They've come a long way in the last two years, so we just wanna keep going with that."
Coach Moreland has been around these girls in some capacity for the last few years and that has helped her settle in as a first year head coach.
"It's been a big help. Last year I was an assistant coach, but even before that I helped out with camp and stuff like that for the last two to three years I've worked with them," said coach Moreland. "It's been nice that I have a background on them and I'm not just jumping in."
Moreland isn't afraid of making some changes either as she transitions from assistant to head coach. She's currently working on some potential new formations and new positions.
"Trying out some new formations. We haven't narrowed down to see exactly what formation we're gonna run, if we're gonna run the same one as last year or not," said coach Moreland. "We have a few defenders from last year that we're gonna try to push up to the midfield and forward positions. Mikaela (Donnelly) has expressed an interest in goalie. I don't wanna lose her on the field, but she would be a strong goalie too, so I'm letting her try it out a little bit."
While Moreland doesn't wanna lose the six goals and seven assists Donnelly had last season, there is some benefit to her getting work in net. Adding another keeper to the mix pushes they current starter, Tylar Reeves, to continue to improve.
"There hasn't really been anybody that showed any interest in the goalie position in the last couple of years. As a matter of fact, Tylar didn't really wanna do goal last year, she had been in it the year before, she didn't really wanna do it and she kinda stepped up to the plate and took it over for us and had done a great job," said coach Moreland. "I think now that there are other people showing interest, it's going to push her and make her work harder."
But Reeves will be a crucial part of the Lady Tigers this season. With the number of players that coach Moreland wants to push from defense to forward and midfield, it's important to have that senior leadership in goal.
"She also does a really good job of leading our defense back there because we are a young defense," said Moreland. "Some of our players that we had playing in the defensive position are going up and moving up to the forward position, so she's doing a good job of leading our team back there."
Coach Moreland is working on an offensive shift, hence the desire to move up some quality defenders. That shift starts with her two captains, Quinn Paulus and Kenzie Ketcherside. Both players were first team All-District and second team All-Conference last season. Paulus scored 15 goals and had five assists, while Ketcherside added five goals and four assists.
"I lean on them for everything and they do a great job, especially this year, of leading their teammates," said Moreland.
With a desire to score more, coach Moreland wants her players to see the field better. They've worked a lot on improving their ball-striking, but they need to be able to read the defense and take advantage of opportunities to get good shots on net.
"I think their shots have improved. They're getting a better foot on the ball, just a stronger foot. And we're still working on it, there's still improvement to be made, but I have seen lots of improvement on it," said coach Moreland. "I'm hoping that they're just going to be able to read the field better and just know where to go. Last year, they were just learning to feel it out, where those open spots are going to be and stuff like that. I'm hoping they'll be able to read the field and have more of that natural instinct this year."
St. James will open the season against another team that is in the building stages of their program in Newburg. Coach Moreland is hoping that her team can learn from that game.
"It's so much different in a game scenario and it's good to go against someone that is kind of also in the same boat and kinda get gasp for the game," said Moreland. "They're going to learn a ton from that first game."
As far as season goals go, coach Moreland isn't really setting goals for win totals or things like that. She just wants to see her team improve.
Well I conferenced with the girls individually and set personal goals for them and a lot of their personal goals were to score more goals themselves, so with that being said, it'll make our team wins go up," said coach Moreland. "Improvement every game, that's what we're looking for."
Coach Moreland is mainly looking forward to working with the girls this season and wants to see them fall in love with the sport.
"Just working with the girls," said coach Moreland. "They're an amazing group of girls and they're just fun to work with. I just want to install a love for the game in them. That's what's going to make them wanna improve and get better is if they fall in love with the game."
One other added flair to this season for coach Moreland is coaching with her husband. Beau Moreland, St. James' wrestling coach, is filling her role as the assistant coach this season and things have worked well so far.
"It's been really good so far, hopefully it continues. Obviously we work pretty good together and I get to hand all the stuff off to him that I don't wanna do," said the head coach with a chuckle. "And he's a lot better with the administrative side of stuff than I am, so it works well."
The Lady Tigers have a jamboree with Newburg, Belle and Sullivan on Saturday Mar. 18, before opening their regular season against the Lady Wolves on Monday, Mar. 20.