By Ray Hamill — With a new head coach, a new conference and a sizable young roster, the Del Norte girls have every reason to feel excited about their future on the soccer field.
A team that has traditionally struggled to compete with the powerhouse Big 5 teams has been given a new lease of life this year in more ways than one, and the players appear well equipped to take full advantage.
“I think that within the next two years, they’ll be a solid team,” said head coach Cyndi Hansen, who served as an assistant with Jeff Cook last season. “Especially with eight freshmen.”
That freshmen class is the largest in some time for the program, if not ever, and while the roster definitely lacks experience — there are just two juniors and no seniors — Hansen believes they can grow together and be a competitive force down the road.
“They all get along,” the head coach said. “They hang out together, they walk the halls together. They have very good chemistry.”
In addition to the eight freshmen, there are five sophomores on the roster of 15, making them the youngest team in H-DNL girls soccer this year, and quite probably in any H-DNL varsity sport.
But that gives them the opportunity to be the most experienced team in the league in two or three years.
Another change for the Warriors this year is the switch from the Big 5 to the Little 4, where they are competing with St. Bernard’s, Ferndale and South Fork in a far more competitive environment.
They are off to a 1-2 start after their first league win against South Fork on Tuesday.
So far, Hansen has been working on the basics with her players, most of whom have no more than rec soccer experience, but she’s seeing a lot of improvement from a sophomore class she is now coaching for the second straight year.
“My sophomores are dialed in,” she said.
So too is junior Channey Schaad, one of only two upperclassmen on the team and a player the others have been looking up to, including her twin sisters Kalyn and Lilly, each of whom are sophomores.
Goalkeeper Deja Payne, who was kept busy while playing the Big 4 teams early in the season, is another key player who has been setting the tempo at the back.
“She has little to no fear,” Hansen said the shot stopper. “I feel she’s been a big part in keeping the (goals) down.”
Another sophomore, Mayleah Jackson, also has been instrumental up front in her first year playing high school soccer after switching over from volleyball.
And the Warriors will benefit from her athleticism.
“She’s really quick,” Hansen said. “She’s one of the fastest players on our team.”
Freshman Aurora Mitchell also has impressed at center defense and has a lot of potential, according to the coach.
“She’s going to be fun to watch the next few years,” Hansen said.
Abigail Stephens is the second junior on the team and also looks set to play a key role.
As part of their development, the coaches and players set themselves three small goals for every game — such as getting open, or looking up when passing, or better communication — and while they don’t always achieve those goals, Hansen believes the small steps are making a big difference.
“Just as long as they continue doing their best and achieving our team goals, we’ll be competitive,” the coach said. “We’re just up and coming.”
Jackson, Liliana Ramirez, Alexis Agurrie and Bella Palmerin each scored in Tuesday’s win over South Fork, which ended 4-3.