MOUNT CARMEL -- As fall sports at last creep around the corner, Wabash Valley College will be celebrating a monumental development for its athletic department.
For the first time Wabash Valley College will have two fall sports competing this year, both being new programs. The volleyball team will be in its second season since the revival of the program, and the women's soccer team is set to begin their inaugural campaign.
The women's soccer team began practice the first week of August and have been hedging out the adjustment to collegiate soccer as well as bridging the chemistry gap between the new faces, with ladies coming from vastly varying styles of play and different walks of life.
"Generally they're a really group of girls, they're always encouraging each other when one makes a mistake or someone's having a bad practice," Wabash Valley College Head Women's Soccer Coach Patrick Harris spoke of his group. "They usually rally around each other, which is encouraging to me because there's going to be moments this season where it's going to be pretty low and down. I know that from what I've just seen in practice that we're going to push through it and be ok. They're a great group of girls, like to rally around each other, they're very positive around each other, very constructive in their criticism, and that's just kind of the way we want to build our team."
Much of the early practice time the Lady Warriors have done early on has focused on live scrimmaging, as Harris gets an idea of what the ladies on the team are capable of and improving their conditioning.
Harris added that he's been quite impressed with how well some of the girls have done, and some have exceeded the expectations he had in place.
"Some of the girls we've sat down and talked about their individual goals as well," Harris said. "Some of them are pretty high individual goals -- I don't want to reveal too much, but it'll be interesting to see what happens when the games start rolling around and we get into the thick of it. There were a lot of players who came in and I had expectations, but it's always great when a coach is surprised a little bit as well. We had several of our players who changed our mind on what shape or formation we're going to play."
Their early work hasn't went without consequence, however. They've already lost one lady on their 19 woman roster to injury and will be out for their opener -- freshman midfielder Olivia Butterworth -- who's now forced to play catch up with a broken arm. Harris expects Butterworth to be out at least the next couple weeks prior to being reevaluated. When she is reevaluated, they're hoping for the best news, so Butterworth can join the team just a couple games in and start to be ushered back into the sway of things.
Their ability to stay healthy, and avoid untimely, freak injury scares such as Butterworth's is something Harris sees as a key to the season for the Lady Warriors, who can't afford many injuries with an already relatively thin roster.
As for a starting lineup, despite seeing flashes of what they're capable of from some of the ladies, Harris said they're still considering who will start. He did say the rotation would likely fluctuate, varying game to game, and varying with formations as well.
Harris says he's instilled high expectations into the program already early on in practice to match the bar the Wabash Valley College athletic programs have already set, and eyes to match the sustained level of excellence -- right out of the gate, or down the road when the program's established.
Having grown tired of just scrimmaging, Harris said his girls are eager to compete against new faces, and strongly desire for the season to commence. With just a few days away, they'll be getting their wish, but the games will come rapidly once they do start and they'll have a tough slate out of the gate.
They'll begin with a road match against Heartland Community College (3-12-1 in 2018) on Aug. 22 at 6 p.m., followed by another road game, this time against McKendree University (NCAA Division II affiliate; 13-5-1 in 2018) at 4 p.m. on Aug. 24, and leading to the program's first ever home game, a match against Kaskaskia on Aug. 28 at 4 p.m., a Lady Blue Devils team that finished 10-5 last year.
"We're going to be right up against it from the start," Harris spoke of the Lady Warriors' schedule. "We're playing Heartland next Thursday, they're a good squad. Then we play McKendree, they're a four-year school, they do well in the GLVC every year. Then we play Kaskaskia, they've been around 10 or 15 years and have a good program in and around the St. Louis area. Then we play Midway, they have a coach that's really vamping up their program and they're going to be a tough result for us to get. Pretty much every game's going to be a battle because there's a lot of unknowns for us, but there's also a lot of unknowns with them too."
If the results don't go as planned early on, the Lady Warriors will need to maintain their composure. They'll still have a slew of home games to regain their footing in, as well as some less difficult opponents, in contrast to the strength of a four-year school powerhouse such as McKendree, or another four-year school they'll face in their fourth game, Midway University.
Youth glares as a potential concern to monitor as they endure such problems. They lack the veteran (sophomore) experience most teams have to help weather through such storms and handle the grind of being a collegiate athlete, mandating the cast of freshmen (with one sophomore on roster) grow as collegiate soccer players in a hurry. It's to be expected with a new program, but a problem they'll likely encounter nonetheless.
Harris added that many of them aspire to move on to a four-year school to continue to compete in soccer upon departing WVC, so such growth (and potentially team success) is integral to reaching that goal -- especially if they compete well against a team such as McKendree or Midway.
Now, with the offseason nearing its official end, Harris feels his group is ready for the challenges that may lie ahead. He hopes the community will come out to support the team during their home games as the program builds from the ground up toward notoriety.
"I think the girls are prepared, they're excited, I think everyone's excited for us," Harris said. "We're a pretty lucky group considering most programs that start out. We're lucky that the foundation has trusted the local soccer association to have such a nice facility with the grass, concession stand and lights. The school I was at [previously] didn't have half of those things. We're very fortunate -- part of that is being able to train on it, it makes it even better."
"We just want everybody to come out and support the girls. We're really excited for the season and this is something different people can come out and watch versus going to a softball or baseball game, or a basketball game for that matter. We want everyone to come because it's going to be a family atmosphere, it's going to be enjoyable and hopefully we can put on a good show for everyone to see."
Players to watch: Kaylee Thaler (GK; New Baden, Ill.), Rebecca Girton (GK; LaVergne, Tenn.), Jaelyn McNeese (F; Lebanon, Ill.), Olivia Butterworth (M; Murray, Ky.), Michelle Luna (D; Angola, Ind.), Jordan Combs (F; Dillsboro, Ind.), Sydney Kohler (M; Columbus, Ohio), Kat Ramsey (M; Madisonville, Ky.), Chloe Lobmaster (M; Springfield, Ill.), Leah Minear (M; Cleveland, Tenn.), Nathalia Garfias (F; Hoffman Estates, Ill.), Kaity McCoy (F; Vincennes, Ind.), Allison Herman (D; Olney, Ill.), Kylee Luce (M; Jeffersonville, Ill.), Katlynn Sandefur (F; Kokomo, Ind.), MaKenna Langenhorst (F; Breese, Ill.), Cassie Riess (M; Alton, Ill.), Sabrina Smith (M; Excelsior Springs, Mo.), Olivia Schultz (D; Kankakee, Ill.).
SCHEDULE: Aug. 22 | at Heartland CC | 6 p.m.
Aug. 24 | at McKendree University | 4 p.m.
Aug. 28 | Kaskaskia | 4 p.m.
Aug. 31 | at Midway University | 12 p.m.
Sept. 2 | John Wood CC | 12 p.m.
Sept. 9 | at Lewis and Clark | 4 p.m.
Sept. 12 | at St. Louis CC | 4 p.m.
Sept. 18 | Southwestern Illinois College | 6 p.m.
Sept. 21 | Lewis and Clark | 12 p.m.
Sept. 25 | at Lincoln Trail | 4 p.m.
Sept. 28 | at Kaskaskia | 12 p.m.
Oct. 2 | Parkland College | 4 p.m.
Oct. 5 | Illinois Central College | 12 p.m.
Oct. 10 | at Jefferson College | 4 p.m.
Oct. 12 | Lincoln Trail | 12 p.m.
Oct. 19 | at St. Charles CC | 2 p.m.