When asked how many starters she lost due to graduation, Greenfield-Central head coach Erin Clark was happy to answer.
“We bring everyone back but Jordan Rupley,” the fourth-year girls soccer coach said. “We lose one, and have a lot of new faces and a lot of old faces as well.”
Overall, the Cougars, which finished 8-5-2 in 2015, return 10 starters, including two All-Hoosier Heritage Conference first-team selections and three honorable mentions.
With so much talent back — six senior starters — and a host of underclassmen mainstays, expectations are at an all-time high at Greenfield-Central, said Clark. But it’s not really a surprise.
“Since the first year I started coaching, I kind of felt like there was a build up for this season. There are expectations, and the girls know it and have embraced it,” Clark said. “With a lot of additions over the years, with Lucy (Brand) and Trystan Ailes, there’s a lot here to be excited about.”
The Cougars have already done their part this offseason in order to reach their 2016 aspirations.
A few weeks after losing 1-0 to New Palestine in the sectional semifinals, the team hit the weight room, eager to get stronger, faster and ready to chase down its first potential sectional title since 2012.
“We hired a strength and conditioning coach just for the soccer team,” Clark said. “We’ve had girls in the weight room three or four days a week since November up until just last week. The girls and I are hoping to see that payoff.”
A rash of costly injuries last season were a primary reason for the incorporation of the Cougars’ new conditioning regimen. A healthy group could equate into a deep postseason run, but it could also thrust the Cougars into the Hoosier Heritage Conference race after finishing third a year ago at 4-3.
“I told the girls this is the best team I’ve coached all around,” Clark said. “This season I feel like there is so much further we can go.”
Among the key returnees are center midfielders Brand, a sophomore, and senior Katie Helgason, who were both named All-HHC.
Brand was a defender for her offseason FC Pride team, which placed third in the nation for a second straight year. She is projected to play defense in college as an Xavier commit, Clark said, but for the Cougars her talents have pushed her up to the midfield.
“She’s an impact player,” Clark remarked. “Unfortunately, last year she was injured around 70 percent of the season between a concussion and a hamstring issue. She probably played 100 percent in four games. It’s going to be exciting to see what she can do with a whole season.”
As a freshman, she scored two goals and three assists while missing the postseason.
Helgason, a multi-sport star, enters the season as a team captain along with junior goalkeeper Kayla Enochs, who posted three shutouts and a county-best 105 saves in 2015 to earn HHC honorable mention. Helgason had five assists and seven goals as a junior.
Senior defenders Jenna Allen and Tiffany Richmond, a HHC honorable mention, are both captains. The duo has patrolled the backfield since they were freshmen together, so they bring a good chemistry in front of Enochs.
Senior Reagan Collins played a lot up front at forward for the Cougars the past three years, but she is sliding back into the midfield this fall to open up more opportunities on offense.
Collins scored five goals for Greenfield-Central last year and is committed to Malone University in Canton, Ohio.
Speedy sophomore Trystan Ailes, a HHC honorable mention, will play up top after leading the team in goals scored at 11 as a freshman. Her fleet-footed younger sister, Jaeden, a freshman, also joins the group this year.
The Cougars other new freshmen include defender Emily Davidson and defender Lucy Conner, who both have the potential to play substantial minutes this season along with the younger Ailes.
“This is the first year in the four that I have coached, that I honestly don’t know who is going to start,” Clark said. “We have good depth this year. We’re going to ask a lot of different players to play different positions to get the best group of girls on the field.”
Coach: Erin Clark (fourth year)
2015 recap: The Cougars (8-5-2) finished third in the Hoosier Heritage Conference at 4-3 and lost to New Palestine 1-0 in the opening round of sectional.
Leading the way: Sophomore Lucy Brand played hurt most of her freshman season, but even at 70 percent, she was impressive. Named All-HHC, Brand has verbally committed to Xavier and along with senior multi-sport star Katie Helgason, the Cougars welcome 10 starters back.
Key returners: Katie Helgason (12), Lucy Brand (10), Trystan Ailes (10), Kayla Enochs (11), Tiffany Richmond (12), Jenna Allen (12), Reagon Collins (12).
Season opener: The Cougars began their season Monday at Warren Central. They travel to Franklin Central on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. start.