NEW ULM - As with each new year in high school sports, every team faces the challenge of replacing star players from a year ago with newer, younger players.
The New Ulm girls soccer team is facing those challenges to a degree. But with plenty of experience coming back, the Eagles once again have high expectations following a 14-3-2 season which saw them go to the section semifinals before a disappointing 2-1 loss to Mankato West.
"This year, our expectations are going to be as high, or higher than last year," head coach Jonathan Johnson said. "I had a sit-down with the girls [Thursday] and the girls are really pumped up for this year."
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
New Ulm senior Kylie Walterman is hoping to lead the Eagles to a potential state berth after a 14-3-2 season a year ago.
The Eagles lost three seniors, but with six seniors back this year, there shouldn't be a shortage of leadership on the team.
"We're all really excited," senior Monica Illikman said. "We lost some seniors that were really good, but we have some younger players to take those spots. Everybody is real positive and excited for the season."
Illikman will play center/midfielder for the Eagles. She admits she likes to be active on the field, and that position gives her plenty of chances to do just that.
"I like playing center/mid, because I like running and I can go pretty much everywhere and help out with everything," she said.?"I played on a team this summer and I did get a lot of opportunities for scoring there, so I'm looking forward to that again."
Along with Illikman, senior Kylie Walterman should help provide the scoring punch the Eagles will need for another deep playoff run.
Walterman echoed Illikman's excitement for this year.
"We've had a lot of success the past couple of years and we have a lot of really strong players coming back, so I think we're looking to build off the last couple of years," Walterman said.?"At a team meeting, we talked a lot about keeping our focus and we're looking to build off what we've done and hopefully make it further in playoffs and maybe go to state this year."
Another key player back is senior goalkeeper Shelby Smith. Johnson is one who's impressed by his two-year starter in the net.
"She is really a super team leader," Johnson said. "I'm really looking forward to her - she ran most of the captain's practices - and I know that the feedback that I've gotten from the girls is very positive and she's just a real organized and very intelligent player."
Most of the defense is back to help Smith. That should help the team make quick progress.
"We lost Anna Lindholm, who was a real powerhouse, but we have girls near her talent that will fill in for her and the rest of the defense is still in tact, so I think we're going to have a super strong defense along with our goalkeeper," Johnson said.
On offense, Johnson thinks Illikman, junior Nicole Moldstad, Walterman and junior Peyton Lewis should be some of the leading scorers for the Eagles.
Other seniors this year for the Eagles include Carly Manderfeld, Courtney Berg and Abby Koelpin.
The Eagles open the 2012 season August 24 at the Mankato Loyola Tournament.