Steve Williams isn’t worried about complacency.
After his Mt. Vernon girls soccer team rolled through the postseason last year, capturing its first sectional title in 19 years and nearly a regional championship, it almost seems like a dream.
This preseason, he’s noticed nothing out of the ordinary. No ego. Zero overconfidence. The swagger is there, just like in 2015, but the Marauders know the risks of looking ahead.
Instead, they’re locked in as if nothing out of the ordinary happened.
“I think they have a real desire to be good,” Williams remarked on his team’s approach this fall. “Last year, they didn’t really know. Now, they understand it. We have a lot of pieces put together to have some really good success, and I think they want to strive to do that.”
The Marauders were more than successful a year ago, they were extraordinary. They finished 12-7-1 on the season and were second in the Hoosier Heritage Conference at 5-2. They won six matches by shutout and outscored their opponents 80-44.
In the sectional tournament, Mt. Vernon allowed two goals and posted seven to upend Shelbyville and avenge a regular-season loss to New Palestine with a 2-1 victory in the championship match.
At regional, they doubled up Roncalli 4-2 before pushing Center Grove to the brink with a 1-0 loss in overtime during the title match.
With seven starters back, including four All-HHC first-team selections and 2015 Hancock County Co-Players of the Year Alexi Hardie and Morgan Scruggs, a repeat is far from unrealistic.
“They’re excited about the possibility,” Williams said. “They know they are expected to do well. It will be interesting to see how they handle it.”
The target on the Marauders backs has ballooned this offseason with both Greenfield-Central and New Palestine aligning themselves to challenge, but as strong as the Marauders were, Williams thinks they could be better.
Last year, sophomore forward Cleo Mills, an All-HHC selection, was out for eight games with a concussion, and Scruggs, a junior, wasn’t quite 100 percent late in the season.
At full strength to start their title defense, the Marauders come back four-fold on offense with their top scorers in prime position to flourish once again.
Scruggs led the team and county with 20 goals last year, while Mills had 13. Junior Alaina Nelson, an All-HHC selection, and Hardie, a sophomore, each recorded 11 goals while the latter was first in assists at 16.
“We were so young in so many positions, and they’ll be back next year, too,” Williams said. “What we lost was our defense. We lost both of our defensive backs, our stopper, our sweeper and the goalkeeper.”
The team’s revamped defense will be anchored by senior team captain Megan Gawrys, who logged 1,351 minutes last season. Riley Hurst, a freshman, will be moved to the back along with Ellie Roach, a sophomore, who learned while backing up the Marauders’ senior-laden defense in 2015.
Nelson is going to work as the Marauders’ stopper after playing midfield as a sophomore. Brianna Angelopulos, a senior midfielder, also is a team captain.
The X-factor, however, is junior Nicole Ratts, who provides the intangibles and was second in assists with 15.
“Nicole Ratts is really unsung on this team. She’s as good as anybody,” Williams said. “She doesn’t get the stats, but she drives the ball on the outside, crosses and a lot of people benefit. She takes a lot of pressure off the defense.”
In net, Williams is turning to freshman Angelina Metcalf and sophomore Jaici Wright, who was a backup last year.
“Both of them are neck-and-neck right now. They’re both vying for the position and it’s close,” Williams said. “I’m not as worried about goalkeeping as I was.”
If there is one concern, it’s the local rivalries, especially with all three county teams in the same sectional, but the Marauders know they control their own destiny.
“I’ve never really had a team that was this offensively minded. We’re loaded on offense, and all we have to do is get a solid defense,” Williams said. “If we can get decent production from our defense, I think we’ll be fine.”
Coach: Steve Williams (third year)
2015 recap: Mt. Vernon (12-7-1) won its first sectional title in 19 years and finished second in the Hoosier Heritage Conference standings with a 5-2 record last season. The Marauders beat Roncalli 4-2 in the regional semifinals before losing to Center Grove 1-0 in overtime.
Leading the way: Opposing teams will need to pick their poison. Mt. Vernon returns leading scorers Morgan Scruggs (20 goals), Cleo Mills (13), Alaina Nelson (11), and Alexi Hardie (11). Hardie and Nicole Ratts led the team with 16 and 15 assists, respectively.
Key returners: Alexi Hardie (10), Alaina Nelson (11), Cleo Mills (10), Morgan Scruggs (11), Megan Gawrys (12), Nicole Ratts (11).
Season opener: The Marauders open the year at home today against Mississinewa at 7:30 p.m. They travel to Franklin Community on Saturday.