The Red Wing girls soccer team began its season with a long road trip to Mankato East on Thursday. The Wingers fell, 6-2, but the year is just beginning for a squad that should be able to dig in early.
The key to the club this year is a lack of change. The 2016 season saw a lot of movement, from players changing roles to new systems and tactics. For 2017, head coach David Thurston is looking to take the next step.
"The last two years, we've had home playoff games, and we've won those. And we competed better in the second round each time. Now the goal is to get past that second round," Thurston said. "We'd like to get to state. But, one step at a time from when we were a bottom-eight seed and not getting a home match to getting home and winning a match."
That path usually begins with a coach settling in and making a program instead of depending on individual talents to hopefully shine through. Now, four years in, Thurston has his system implemented.
"Last year we switched a lot, from formations, to style of attack and a bunch of different concepts. It was tough in the beginning, but it paid off in the end," Thurston said. "This year we're keeping it the same, so the juniors and seniors have been in that system for a year. Now we just build on that and integrate more into it."
The Wingers come in with seven seniors, 11 juniors, six sophomores and 11 freshmen, a far cry from where the numbers were just a couple short years ago.
"We're maintaining good numbers. We'd like to have more, but we're staying in the mid-40s," Thurston said, adding, "coming in last year, we lost a couple three- and four-year letter winners. Last year was really the first year we had to make changes on defense. This year, these girls have played defense on JV, or we're converting them to what we feel better fits their strengths."
Also a key defensively will be replacing a two-year starter, as well as some others that had to make that transition last year.
"We lost Paige Harlow as a starting goalkeeper for two years, and some seniors on defense, that diamond on defense," Thurston said. "At first I was a little concerned, but after the first week of practice we've had girls stepping up. I'm not nervous anymore."
Another solid showing will keep Red Wing on the path that Thurston hopes to see to the end some day in the not-too-distant future.
"That class that graduated two years ago, we had small numbers with two or three juniors and seniors," Thurston said. "But now with 10 girls every grade, it's easier. You know that when you lose 10, there's 10 coming up. Now we don't have to play a really good eighth-grader, we can keep them down and develop them and bring them through the system.
"It's going to be an exciting season. We haven't set our team goals yet. But another rainy day and we will get in there and do that."