Washington and Washington Catholic fell short of their goals during the 2012 season, but as the 2013 season gets started both programs have a new look. The Cardinals have an infusion of young talent to go with their strong veteran presence, while there will also be changes with the Hatchets, who are on their third coach in three years, coming off a season, which ended as a sectional runner-up.
Entering his first season as the head coach of the Lady Hatchets, Stacy Bryant has an advantage over a typical first-year coach. Bryant has already coached many of the same players when they were much younger in the junior high ranks. That familiarity has allowed Bryant and the Hatchets to get on the same page quickly, and the results have been positive.
“The girls are very optimistic, I think they’re excited for this season and it’s a hard-working bunch,” Bryant said. “We have good leadership and they compete hard every day. A good thing, especially with girls, they don’t seem to be offended by competing hard. They may be friends, but I’m stressing that even at practice they need to work hard and compete. They’ve been doing that thus far, and I’ve been impressed so far.”
Bryant said it has made the transition easier with that fact that he knows a large amount of the girls, but that doesn’t mean his evaluations of each player in preseason practice will be any different. In fact, he gets to see an updated version of the players he remembers with competition from ones he isn’t as familiar with. Bryant did add he has coached some of the girls since they were as young as nine years old.
“I haven’t pigeon-holed anybody, they have to earn it, just like if I had coached them every year,” Bryant said. “People change, their attitudes change, their philosophies change, their desires change, and the age that they are at right now their bodies have changed. Taking all that into consideration, they still have to prove themselves on the field and they’re up to that challenge.”
Senior leadership will be important for the 2013 Hatchets as they try to take the next step toward winning a sectional championship, something they haven’t done since 2010 when Gretchen Miles was the coach. Bryant said he has seen one senior in particular take charge to lead the pack in open fields and preseason practice, and that’s goaltender Ally Hunsinger. Despite suffering an ankle injury during open fields, Bryant has been impressed by her leadership even from the sideline.
“She hurt her ankle and she’s going to be OK, but sometimes I might show an example on the field, and she’s over on the bench with her foot up and I don’t have to tell her anything and she hobbles over here so she can listen — that’s an example of what I have with the leaders,” Bryant said. “I’ve known Ally (Hunsinger) since she was a little girl and she’s always been a competitor, even as a little girl. It’s fantastic to have Ally. I’ve told her in her position, I need a leader there. She’s going to fit that role really nicely.”
The Hatchets have a tough road to start the season with three straight road games starting August 22 against Castle, Evansville Central and Evansville Memorial, before the Sept. 4 home opener against Evansville Mater Dei. Bryant said his expectations will stay small and focus on the details of each practice and game.
“For me, it really is just to get the best opportunity in every game that we have and then let the wins and losses fall wherever they may,” Bryant said.
The Cardinals enter the season with a nice mix of youth and experience as they try to expand on an 8-5-1 finish in 2012, which saw Washington Catholic fall to North Knox 2-0 in the first round of the Sullivan sectional. Cardinals head coach Kelly Neace thinks this season offers a nice opportunity to win now and build toward the future.
“I think this can be a real positive year with 10 freshman, I also have seven seniors going out, and that’s the largest group of seniors I’ve had going out,” Neace said. “They are pumped up and ready to go — all seven of my seniors are ready to go. It sets the freshman up for success, even though next year will be a rebuilding year, they will have some experience. I only have two juniors and three sophomores. There’s a big gap and they need to utilize what the seniors can teach them.”
Among the seven seniors, Neace said the most leadership has come from Elizabeth Perkins.
“She’s been a captain for the past two years, she’s been a travel player for at least the last five years and she’s been with me ever since she has been U-6,” Neace said. “She is a very good athlete, she is a basketball All-Star, All-Conference in basketball and soccer. Overall she’s a good leader, she communicates well and she can also participate on the field and show the rest of the team what the team needs to do — a very good role model.”
With the season opener on the horizon with road matches against Princeton and South Spencer starting Wednesday, before the home opener August 27 at Pike Central at Rees Field. With such a big group coming together in practice, Neace said her biggest concern is making sure the chemistry is where it needs to be.
“Everyone needs to learn the way we play with a possession game,” Neace said. We are working on just being able to trust, because that group of 10 freshman has been together the past two or three years, and it’s an entire new team, you have to learn to trust each other to see where their strengths and weaknesses are. I think the chemistry is really good already, because that’s the good thing about WC — everyone knows everyone and we all make each other feel welcome. The girls have already done things together to team build.”
One of the seniors will be from Norway, Vibeke Salmelid, who Neace says has been played against professional players in her native country. Neace hopes her talent and experience can be an asset to the evolving Cardinals offense.
“She has played professionally and against some women who are 30- years-old. She’s very good in the midfield,” Neace said. “I think she’s going to be a player to watch.”