BY AARON PATTERSON email@example.com
---- — DANVILLE — One year ago, the Danville Vikings girls’ soccer team was faced with the challenge of playing with a relatively new team.
Second-year coach Katie Gremar was tasked with bringing together a squad with only four returning players. Now in her third season at Danville, Gremar has another similar dilemma. But with a little work, the results might not be all that bad.
Danville (2-3 overall, 0-1 in the Big 12 Conference) dropped its third game of the season on Saturday, suffering a 2-0 Big 12 Conference loss to Urbana. But through 27 minutes, the Vikings controlled the contest and played much of the half in their own offensive zone.
In fact, by the end of the half the Vikings felt good about almost 38 of the 40 minutes they had played. Unfortunately, a couple of breakdowns during a 109-second stretch netted two goals for the Tigers and left a scar on an otherwise positive day at Ned Whitesell Field.
“I think when they scored the two goals, I think it made us upset and we let it get to us,” Danville senior Katie Goodwin said. “It made us turn down for a little bit during the game. But, in the second half, and we wanted revenge. We were trying hard to get back, but it didn’t work.”
Urbana sophomore Cora McQueen lofted a shot from the left side that floated over the head of Danville keeper Kyia Bryant 27 minutes, 1 second into the first half. Then, 1:49 later, junior midfielder Alison Slaughter put the Tigers up 2-0 on a similar shot from about 20 yards out.
Bryant went on to save the next four shots on goal by the Tigers, and the Vikings defense limited the damage. Danville, however, failed to get a shot on goal in the second half.
Gremar credited Urbana with taking advantage of its opportunities, but referenced the breakdowns to miscommunication and inexperience.
Goodwin, Bryant, and Marissa McMillan are the team’s only three seniors who, with the help of a handful of juniors (including three-year varsity members Sam Schnelle, Taylor Ellis), will help six first-year players adjust to the rigors of varsity soccer. Four of the six are starters.
“In my starting lineup, I think I’ve got four or five new players this year — incoming freshmen and then girls that transferred over from track,” Gremar said. “Just getting the whole team atmosphere of how they can use each other and play off of each other (will be important). We spent a lot of time on that this week just working on give-and-gos and overlaps and communication; cleaning up a lot of the little things that hopefully by the end of the season will be second nature, and they’ll be ready to go.”
Newcomer Lexi Hoskins, who specialized in the 400-meter run on last year’s girls track team, is expected to give the Vikings a boost in team speed either as a sweeper or forward. Despite the inexperience, it is the potential and athleticism of the team that has Gremar and the veterans optimistic for the 2014 season.
“Lexi Hoskins did track, and I feel like her speed helps us out a lot, definitely in the back. It helps us have a stable defense. Some of the other new girls are fast. There’s Dahaila (Escobedo) — she’s really fast and she’s a good forward. She gets the ball up there and she tackles really well.”
They got their first taste of high school soccer in the Decatur St. Teresa tournament where the Vikings finished 2-2 with both losses coming against Charleston. Their two wins came against Mattoon (2-1) and Decatur Eisenhower (5-0). Hoskins scored two of Danville’s five goals against Eisenhower.
Two of Danville’s next three games are against teams it has already defeated, leaving the Vikings hopeful of at least four wins through eight games.
On Tuesday, the Vikings will be on the road against Mattoon, and will travel to Springfield on Thursday. Danville’s next home game is scheduled for Saturday, April 12 against Eisenhower.
While the Vikings recorded a shutout against Eisenhower, their win over Mattoon came in a shootout.
“I’m very optimistic,” Gremar said. “I think the more comfortable they get playing together, the more cohesive they will become. They’re great at scoring goals in practice, and then in a game, they panic. Those are all things that we are going to continue working on.
“But, I am very optimistic about the season. I think they have improved 100-times over from last year. Just the general atmosphere of the team, they are all hard workers and have good work ethic. I think it will be a pretty good season for us.”