Coming into the season, the St. James girls soccer team knew this would be a bit of a rebuilding year.
The team graduated one of the best scorers in the history of the program and had a lot of fresh faces that would look to replace some of that scoring. The Lady Tigers went on to finish the season with a record of 2-18 after starting the season 2-2. They ran into a number of problems, from an experienced starter leaving the team to a number of injuries piling up.
"It was one of those seasons where you're sitting there, waiting for it to fall, but you're not really sure which way it's going to fall," said assistant coach Beau Moreland. "We talked to them all season long and told them we have the potential and the desire and some of the ability. It just basically came down us against time. Trying to get the new girls caught up to the experienced girls fast enough that we could be competitive with the conference and District that we ended up being in this year."
Injuries made it tough for those new girls to play catch up, as players were forced to move positions every few weeks this season. The more inexperienced girls never had a chance to full learn a new position, because they'd be on their way to a new one before they had the chance to settle in. While it was frustrating at the team, the St. James coaching staff hopes that the constant shuffling will pay off down the line for those young players.
"If we hadn't have lost Shelby, if Alyssa hadn't gone down, its one of those things were we were really starting to dial in there for a minute," said coach Moreland. "Or we'd get a game where we played really well and we looked good in the positions we were in and then Shelby leaves and we have to move around again.
"It was really frustrating there, but as the season progressed, we looked at is as a great opportunity to take the leadership we have on the team and the heart from people like Ashlyn Rinehart, where you can't ask for a better player. That girl cares so much about her team and she's willing to put so much effort into it and be selfless to help these younger players and give them the experience they need on the field," continued Moreland on how they were able to use the constant change as a way to help young players learn for the future. "(Those kinds of players) helped them develop, so that next year they'll be more competitive have a better chance. That was kind of the way we got to looking at it in the long run."
There were some young bright spots for St. James this season. Aly Bullock was a rock for St. James in the middle of the field as a freshman, despite playing keeper during her youth career. Caily Sanders moved up to forward midway through the season and showed a lot of promise. Those young players learning through a rough season will hopefully pay off next year.
"Caily Sanders is a soccer player," said Moreland "That girl has found a sport that she wasn't really aware of and she came out and she's a natural.
"Aly Bullock is a goalie. That's what she spent her time learning how to become and that's what she'd be the best at and it just shows what she's capable of to be able to come out and be at the varsity level and play center mid our go out and play a wing or a forward and still be one of the dominant forces out there on the field," continued Moreland. "She's young and you can see a lot of that in her as she plays, but that's good. It shows that she still has a lot of growth left in her, but you can also see that she's a natural leader."
Those younger players were able to learn from a great group of seniors. Mikaela Donnelly was consistent up top for the Lady Tigers. The Rinehart sisters were rocks in the middle of the field until Alyssa got hurt, the list goes on. The work from those seniors with the younger players will hopefully pay off for future teams.
"Being able to use the girls that had been here for three years that were our seniors this year to guide (the younger players) and prepare them for their future in the sport is definitely the highlight of what we were able to accomplish this year," said the Lady Tiger head coach. "They did a great job keeping a positive attitude in a season that if you measured it only by wins and losses, it could've been really bad. As a team, they were super successful accomplishing a lot of things on a personal level and as a team. A lot of that is attributed to our senior group."
One of the most unsung of those seniors is Ivy Fowler in goal. If you look at her goals allowed, it doesn't look like she had a great season in goal, but Fowler faced a barrage of shots every game. If it wasn't for her bringing her best every game, St. James likely would've lost by mercy rule more often this season.
"It's a very stressful position and Ivy handled it extremely well. She developed over those years into a great goalie. We were having 48 shots per game on us and we only had one regular season 10-0. That alone speaks to what she was able to do in that box," said coach Moreland. "You don't shoot 48 times and not 10-0 a team, that doesn't happen very often. I truly think if we had been a little more competitive this season, she could've been up for All-Conference and District honors for what she was able to do back there in the box."
While St. James only got two wins this season, the Lady Tigers won't count this as a bad season.
"We're counting this season as a successful season, because success is measured in several different ways," said coach Moreland. "It's not always about winning, it's about what you make of the season and the high school career that you have, the friendships that you make and the lessons that you learn. It was really unique and nice to see."