Other area clubs should be improved
It's been three years since Rivet finally had enough soccer interest to split up its coed squad and form its first girls team. Since then, the Lady Patriots have been the best in the area, capturing two sectionals in its first three seasons.
Despite heavy losses to graduation from a team that went 14-5-1, including last year's Sun-Commercial Player of the Year Janine Anderson, Rivet looks to be tops again in the county, but the other three schools are closing the gap.
Lincoln has the majority of its roster back from a 6-10 club to pair with a quality freshman class. South Knox was 6-11-1 a season ago, and while it lost a good chunk of its offensive punch, the defense is almost entirely intact. North Knox was winless last season at 0-14, but it brings back its keeper and top goal scorer, and huge sophomore and freshman classes point to a bright future. The Warriors also welcome back coach Kelsey Houchin, who previously coached the team from 2012 through 2015.
Three different Lady Patriots have claimed the last three S-C Player of the Year honors. Two of them graduated last season, but one returns, and the rest of the squad has enough experience to put Rivet among the favorites to take another sectional and Blue Chip Conference title.
The team certainly won't lack for offense with its four seniors leading the attack. Abby Niehaus, the 2017 Player of the Year, has put up 54 goals over the last two seasons, and Tia Tolbert, an all-area selection last year, is just eight shy of being the school's all-time assist leader. Caroline Herman moves from defensive midfielder to attacking midfielder this year, and Kennedy Johnson is the right wing.
“The seniors are expected to contribute heavily this year, and they'll all be in new positions,” Rivet coach John Anderson said. “Caroline is assigned the task of directing the attack. She has good ball control, is comfortable distributing and she can do some scoring from outside of the 18-yard box. Kennedy has the ability to make well-timed crossing passes. Tia moves to the center forward position, which allows her to see the attack develop, move into position and properly distribute the ball. Abby is a pure speed attacking option on the outside, and she can break down opponents with her individual attack.”
Junior Maggie Earley adds to the offense from the midfield, where she is joined by junior Avery Vantlin and sophomore Carmen Creech. Rounding out the starting lineup are defenders junior Kathryn Herman, sophomore Katie Daughtery, freshman Morgan Alderton, and freshman goalkeeper Jayda Millspaugh.
The rest of the roster consists of junior Lily Waggoner, sophomores Alicia McGuire and Meredith Weiss, and freshmen Katie McGuire, Kenadee Frey, Kenzie Willis and Layla Murawski. Vantlin and Frey also play volleyball, while Waggoner splits time with golf.
“As a team we're still sticking to the same goals: defend our home pitch, win the Blue Chip Conference and make it to the sectional finals and beyond,” Anderson said. “Each season we set our sights on winning games in the teens, 13, 14, 15 or more. Individually we would like to see Abby increase her goal scoring back to her sophomore level of over 30 goals. We have the potential to have four or five players score over 10 goals if we can get our offense clicking.”
Anderson noted that South Knox and Northeast Dubois could pose challenges in the league, and that Sullivan, as the new host, could be a team to beat in the sectional, as the Patriots aim for their third title in four years.
The Alices doubled their win total last season, going from three in 2017 to six a year ago. Though another doubling of wins may not be likely, Lincoln seems primed to once again improve its record.
Sophomore Sierra Mullins found the net 24 times during her rookie campaign, and she makes the move from forward to midfield. Junior Ashlyn Hillenbrand is back to lead the defense, while senior Mia Cory moves from defense to midfield. Other key returners are senior defensive midfielder Karlie Myers and junior center back Alaina Lowery.
“(Hillenbrand) holds our defensive line together with her ability to communicate, while Sierra makes the move to help us control the midfield. She's great at making quick decisions and knowing where the ball needs to move,” Lincoln coach Kellie Cargal said. “Mia is comfortable working on the left side, while Karlie is a great leader despite this only being her second year playing, and Alaina is incredibly fast with a great work ethic.”
A trio of newcomers step into key roles as well. Senior Victoria Jackson is a defensive midfielder her first year on the pitch, and freshmen Madalynn Grube and Ariana Patricio are the goalkeeper and forward.
“(Jackson) is a rookie to watch this year. She takes direction well and applies it quickly,” Cargal said. “I'm excited (Grube) has finally made it to the high school. She is proving she's more than capable of handling the position in practices. Ari is taking over for Sierra. She's one of the quickest players on the team and is ready to finish anything that makes it to the box.”
Filling out the squad are juniors Alexus Arvin, Jayda Hovland, Makayla Fisher and Sydney Fuller, sophomores Abigail Kirk and Haley Kohlhouse, and freshmen Alyssa Hillenbrand, Briana Scott and Sacha Banzon.
“We've really improved our record since I started out. Our team is getting stronger, and we are out to win some of the games we let slip away last year,” Cargal said. “We're still going to have some tough matches against bigger programs, but overall, we want to get on the board every game, and we aren't planning on letting anyone take an easy win.”
Cargal added that Jasper is likely the team to beat in the Big Eight Conference and the sectional.
Defense is the name of the game for the Spartans this season, as five of their starting six defenders return. The offense, however, may be a work in progress as South Knox graduated its top three goal scorers, who were all all-area selections last season.
The defense is formidable though, and experienced, with four seniors and a junior. The seniors patrolling the back are Grayson Keller, Kennedy Bilskie, Lauren Fitch and Marlie Lindauer, and the junior is Reagan Nowaskie.
“We have five of our six defensive starters from last season returning, and each of those five demonstrate one of our biggest assets, which is toughness,” South Knox coach Travis Herb said. “They work well together, having played with each other for three years.”
Running the offense from the midfield spots are senior Coral Hardig and sophomore Jordyn Derouin. Herb said both of them are “confident on-the-ball facilitators.” Vying for time at the forward spots are junior Kate Phegley and a trio of newcomers, sophomore Sydney Riker and freshmen Kenzie Johnson and Taylor Medlen. Herb was pleased with what he's seen so far from the new team members.
“We added Sydney, Taylor and Kenzie, and all three players have a good skill set to get things going on the offensive end," he said.
Kaitlin Bilskie is the only other senior, juniors are Morgan Beard, Natalie Blaize, Susanna Shepard and Ellie Fausnaugh, and sophomore Desirae Carpenter and freshman Kaitlynn Sampson complete the roster. Shepard and Fausnaugh are the goalkeeper options.
Herb hoped to improve his team's win total from a season ago, and while he knows it won't be easy, competing for Blue Chip Conference and sectional titles are the ultimate goals. The coach didn't hesitate to name a favorite to claim both.
“Rivet is the team to beat until someone beats them,” he said. “They have had a lot of success the last three years. Also in the sectional is Sullivan. They were tough last year, and we expect them to be this year as well. They have a strong tradition of success.
“We're trying to win 10 games this year, and our goal every year is to get to the sectional final. If we can get to the finals, we feel like we have a good shot at competing for the title.”
The Warriors aren't lacking depth this season with the biggest roster in the area (21), and they should certainly improve on a winless campaign a year ago. But with a new coach and over three-quarters of the team being freshmen and sophomores, it's difficult to project how much improvement there will be.
They have plenty of experience, despite the youth. Junior Riley Petro is back for her third year as the starting keeper, and top goal scorer, sophomore Emma Stanczak returns as well. Houchin also has high expectations for sophomore midfielders Briley Cliver and Aubrey Smith, and sophomore defenders Hayle Goff and Maryssa Lamb.
“Riley is an awesome goalie, probably the best in the area. She has worked hard over the summer improving her skills, and I'll also look for her to be a leader,” Houchin said. “I hope to get more confidence in Stanczak so she can put more balls in the goal. Briley brings a lot of energy and toughness to our team, and Aubrey's footwork and knowledge will help as well. Maryssa and Hayle had never played until last year. They showed a lot of improvement on defense at the end of last season, and I'm excited to see what they can bring this year.”
The other upperclassmen are seniors Molly Dolkey and Hannah Ivers, and junior Emily Chapman. The other sophomores are Kaylee Hadlock, Macey Dolkey, Kaycee Strate, Rylee Lemons and Molly Archer. The freshmen are Emma Elkins, Macy Cliver, Makay Burress, Hailey Walls, Madison Dolkey, Hope Westfall and Isabel Cope.
“I'm excited to have many freshmen with some years of experience,” Houchin said. “Emma Elkins is a leader and hard worker, and her scoring will be a huge asset. Macy will also be an asset in scoring with her quickness, and Makay and Isabel will contribute to our defensive line with their toughness.”
Houchin said Rivet is the favorite in the Blue Chip, but she didn't rule out her team competing for a sectional by season's end.
“I have high expectations this year for this group,” she said. “I have many girls who have experience, and they've been working hard already. The sectional goes back to Sullivan this year, and I know the competition will be tough, however, we could be successful there.
“I'm excited to be back coaching after taking some time off to be with my boys. I look forward to a fun and successful season.”