Gina Fannin admits there was a brief moment of panic this preseason when the fourth-year New Palestine girls soccer coach crunched the numbers.
Nine seniors from her 2015 Hoosier Heritage Conference championship roster that logged anywhere from 150 to 1,200 minutes were no longer around. Twenty-three of the team’s 50 goals from 2015 were gone as well.
“It’s hard replacing the girls you’ve had for years,” Fannin said. “At first, you look around and say, ‘oh, no.’ Then you see the younger ones coming in with the new seniors and you realize you’re going to be okay.”
The Dragons return seven starters from 2015. There are 10 seniors overall with four projected to start. On the opposite end of the spectrum, New Palestine has three freshmen playing on varsity along with several key competitors in between.
The mixture of experience and up-and-coming talent will give the Dragons plenty to work with, said Fannin, who believes the program’s team-first philosophy will keep them in the HHC race this fall.
Losing the team’s leading scorer, Katie Villiger, hurts, but the Dragons are looking for further development from sophomore Olivia Lambdin, senior Katie Settergren, junior Olivia McKilligin, and senior Meaghan Matus to make up for her 15 goals.
“We actually have a freshman coming in that has a lot of potential, too,” Fannin said. “Katie is irreplaceable, but I think we can work our way up there to get some good numbers this year, collectively.”
Jordan Reid, a forward, is the anticipated newcomer, who will see time up top where she can utilize her speed.
Reid is a multi-sport athlete in basketball, soccer and track that has worked her way up the system. In the offseason, Reid plays for USF Real.
The Dragons are also going to turn to a freshman goalkeeper this season in Haley Weinrich, who will look to ease the transition in the net after the graduation of former starter Gabbi Pierson and backup Alicia Petrow.
Last season, the Dragons allowed 1.1 goals against on average and recorded 6.5 saves per match. The return of junior Hannah Taggart and sophomore Victoria Crowder, an All-HHC selection, on defense will be vital to New Palestine sustaining its previous trend and building Weinrich’s confidence.
Grace Voelz, a sophomore, is back on defense after deciding to focus solely on soccer this year. As a freshman, she split time as a cross country runner.
New Palestine will be without one of its key defenders, however, in senior team captain Danielle Matus, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament this summer.
Her sister Meaghan, who was named All-HHC, and Settergren, a HHC honorable mention, are the team’s other two captains.
Fannin would like to try to get midfield/forward McKilligin more involved in the offensive attack after scoring four goals as a sophomore.
Lambdin, an All-HHC honoree, was second in scoring as a freshman with nine goals, while Settergren was the team leader with six assists and added five goals. Meaghan Matus contributed three goals and four assists.
“Hopefully, if we can produce more goals out of (Lambdin) as well, that will help us,” Fannin said. “We have several different places we can attack from, so as long as we can continue to do that, I think we can continue to be a little bit more offensive than we were last year.”
Senior Lauren Heitman at midfield brings some explosiveness when the Dragons want to increase the tempo against their opponents. Another freshman that is projected to log heavy minutes on defense is Edin Hurst.
In 2014, the Dragons finished 14-5 to win back-to-back sectional titles. Last fall, the team was 14-4 and 6-1 in the HHC, tying New Castle for the league championship.
Their season came to an end against HHC rival Mt. Vernon in the sectional championship, 2-1, after beating the Marauders 2-1 in double overtime during the regular season.
“It went down to the last five minutes and they went on to score their winning goal in the last minute and a half. That was a tough one to swallow,” Fannin said. “We’re looking for that one to go a different way this year.”
Before the state tournament, though, the HHC is the top priority for the Dragons.
“As long as we play our game and smart soccer, I think we’ll be able to make a run at it,” Fannin said. “They’re pretty determined. They definitely want to defend that title.”
Coach: Gina Fannin (fourth year)
2015 recap: New Palestine (14-4) finished with a share of the Hoosier Heritage Conference title with New Castle at 6-1 and topped Mt. Vernon 2-1 in 2 OTs during the regular season before losing to them 2-1 in the sectional final.
Leading the way: Sophomore Olivia Lambdin returns as the team’s second-leading scorer with nine goals. She was named All-Hoosier Heritage Conference along with senior Meaghan Matus and sophomore Victoria Crowder.
Key returners: Meaghan Matus (12), Olivia Lambdin (10), Hannah Taggart (11), Victoria Crowder (10), Katie Settergren (12).
Season opener: The Dragons opened their season on Monday at Perry Meridian. They host Triton Central on Wednesday at 6 p.m.