NEW PALESTINE — The New Palestine Dragons aren’t getting ahead of themselves.
With a new sectional field this season and situated on an opportunistic Class 2A path, far from their county rivals, who all moved up to 3A, the Dragons are optimistic. But nothing is guaranteed, head coach Gina Fannin emphasized.
“It’s a little bit different. They’re kind of excited about that and looking forward to it, but we’re taking it one game at a time and will see where we are at when we get there,” Fannin said.
For the time being, the Dragons, who were young in various spots in 2016, are eager to improve after finishing 10-4-1 last fall.
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The key ingredient for the Dragons this season — beyond experience — will be speed.
Several vital pieces from New Palestine’s Hancock County and Hoosier Heritage Conference girls track and field championship teams are on the soccer roster. The confidence many gained from deep postseason runs in track this past spring is spilling over, Fannin said, and they are ready to be deployed.
“One thing we’re looking forward to is the speed we have on the team,” Fannin said. “We have Jordan Reid, who was a state finalist in track, Victoria Crowder and Edin Hurst, who both went to track regional, and Olivia McKilligin, who was a regional runner, along with Grace Voelz.
“We’re trying to harness that speed and work it in well.”
One way the team is game-planning their quickness is moving Reid, a sophomore, from forward to outside mid. Reid was one of three Dragons who scored six goals in 2016 to lead the team.
Senior Olivia McKilligin, who also had six goals, returns at midfield, while senior Corrin Neese (five goals in 2016) will play outside. Junior Olivia Lambdin, who peppered the net for five goals last season, will float more center-mid to push the attack.
“She’s very strong in the midfield and very tough. She’s got a great shot from the outside, too,” Fannin said. “We also had (Crowder) on defense before, but we won’t have her there this year. We’ll be playing her outside and using a little bit more of our speed because we have Hannah Taggart back.”
Taggart broke her collarbone in the second game last year and was out for the season. She returns as a senior defender to help in front of the box along with Edin Hurst, a sophomore. Voelz and Grace Miller, a senior, will look to neutralize the opposition.
“Last year with Taggart out, our whole back line, our whole defense and keeper were all sophomores or freshmen. This year they have a little bit more experience, so it’s kind of good to know I can rely on some of those younger girls to get the job done,” Fannin said.
In goal, sophomores Riley Moss and Haley Weinrich will share minutes as the season progresses and based on situational needs. Weinrich was 10-4 in 2016 with eight shutouts. Moss was 3-1 with three shutouts.
The defense has been stout early on this season with back-to-back shutouts against Perry Meridian and Triton Central as the Dragons outscored their foes 9-0.
“They both really stepped it up this summer and got a lot of keeper training down. They got better with their club teams, so they’re both looking pretty good right now,” Fannin said. “They both have their talents and compliment each other really well. But they’re still young and working on things.”
Additional speed will come from freshman Addie Halter at forward.
“Addie Halter is super fast. Some of the girls say she’s as fast as Jordan,” Fannin said.
Finishing 5-2 in the HHC last year to tie Pendleton Heights for second behind Mt. Vernon, the Marauders are revving up to challenge for the championship.
“We still have Mt. Vernon and Greenfield in conference, so there is still that rivalry there in the regular season because we are still trying to get to the top of the conference as well,” Fannin said. “That conference is pretty tough, and it keeps our season tough enough that when we get into sectional, we could do well, but it won’t be easy. Just because we’re 2A doesn’t mean there aren’t good teams there.”