Team cohesion, strong midfield to guide girls soccer season | FALL SPORTS PREVIEW

South Whidbey senior Carmen Colar prepares to pass during a recent practice.

If there’s one thing the South Whidbey girls soccer team has going for it this season, it is team cohesion. The Falcons are primed to hit the ground running when they take the field in a jamboree at Oak Harbor High School on Sept. 1.

Players and coaches say the team has strong team chemistry after most of the varsity team played together on Terry Swanson’s select club team throughout the offseason. The players continued training well into the summer and have acted as a cohesive unit throughout the preseason, junior midfielder Mikayla Hezel said.

“The girls are definitely more dedicated this year and they’ve been out here the entire summer,” Hezel said. “The practice pays off big time.”

The Falcons, however, will be without a few of their varsity players from 2015, some of whom could have been impact players. Among those not returning is Chloe Hood, who had to prioritize her passion for theater productions, said second-year head coach Brian McCleary. Maria Young, a senior who missed most of last season due to injury, may also not return. Some Members of last year’s junior varsity team also didn’t turn out. The change in the roster slightly upended McCleary’s original outlook for the team that he had coming into the season. So, just like last year, they’ll rely on a mixture of fresh faces and veterans to carry the team to success.

“It’s a good group,” McCleary said. “There’s several kids on the team that played club soccer this past winter, so they’re a lot more experienced and have played with each other.”

“That’s going to pay off for them. They just have a lot more confidence, you can just tell,” he added.

McCleary predicted the Falcons will be greatly helped because of their experience in the offseason as they to find their place in the Cascade Conference. The Falcons lost several seniors to graduation, including second-team all-league midfielder Kendra Warwick, as well as junior Leah Rostov who was enrolled in Running Start. South Whidbey finished 2-13-1 in 2015.

McCleary said the Falcons aren’t filling a void left by the graduated players but are instead changing the team’s tactics based on the players’ strengths.

“You don’t really fill the void — you just change what you do,” McCleary said.

Among those replacing graduated players are junior Mikayla Hezel and senior Carmen Colar, who are both midfielders. Colar and Hezel are both confident of the team’s ability after gaining valuable experience playing on Swanson’s club team. The Falcons practiced multiple times a week while playing tournaments on the weekends. Colar is optimistic that the Falcons will contend for a postseason berth against the league’s 1A teams, King’s, Sultan and Cedar Park Christian.

“We’re way more physically fit and in tune than we were last season,” Colar said. “I think we stand a really good chance of going to the playoffs this year and I know we can beat Cedar Park [Christian] and Sultan.”

McCleary said one of the Falcons’ strongest points will be Hezel, Colar and a couple of other players at midfield. Sophie Hammer, a striker, will also be a weapon offensively due to her experience from last season. Establishing who will be the playmakers beyond the proven veterans will be among the duties for McCleary and assistant coach Ernie Merino as they prepare for the Oak Harbor jamboree, though the case is the same for just about every other South Whidbey team this fall. McCleary said around three or four freshmen will be in the mix for a starting role on varsity.

2016 Falcon soccer schedule

Thursday, Sept. 1

Oak Harbor Jamboree

Tuesday, Sept. 6

vs. Everett

Thursday, Sept. 8

vs. Coupeville

Saturday, Sept. 10

vs. Port Townsend* (2 p.m.)

Tuesday, Sept. 13

vs. Archbishop Murphy*

Thursday, Sept. 15 vs. King’s

Tuesday, Sept. 20, vs. Cedar Park Christian*

Thursday, Sept. 22 vs. Granite Falls

Saturday, Sept. 24

vs. Oak Harbor* (2 p.m.)

Wednesday, Sept. 28 vs. Cedarcrest*

Saturday, Oct. 1 vs. Sultan

Tuesday, Oct. 4 vs. Archbishop Murphy

Thursday, Oct. 6 vs. King’s*

Tuesday, Oct. 11 vs. Cedar Park Christian

Thursday, Oct. 13 vs. Granite Falls*

Saturday, Oct. 15 vs. Sultan* (noon)

Wednesday, Oct. 19 vs. Cedarcrest

* Home match

Home matches start at 6 p.m., with the exception of Sept. 10 and 24 and Oct. 15.