“Our first goal is to win a playoff game,” said Cunningham-Darrah, “and then to keep winning them.”
While every member of Coach Chris Walling’s squad is excited to be back in cleats and shinguards, perhaps none are quite as ecstatic as Nesbitt who was forced to watch the majority of last season from the sidelines, after suffering an ACL tear in the first month of the season. “I had a year off from all sports,” said Nesbitt. “I can’t explain how good it feels to be back out here with my girls. It’s incredible, it was a long wait but totally worth it now.”
Cunningham-Darrah was commissioned to take Nesbitt’s place at the team’s center-middle position last season, alongside the now-graduated Abbi Molner. Cunningham-Darrah and Nesbitt will now work as a team at the position, with sophomores Kaylea Niles and Caroline Strysko on the outside midfield along with Norwegian foreign exchange student Henrietta Aas, and freshmen Karlee Wacowiach and Caitlin Hunt. Last year’s leading scorer Jordan Niles returns for her fourth year as well, a player Walling expects to break out once again. Along with Niles are Strysko and Kirsten Halbur, returning for their last year.
This year features a large crop of freshmen players, who Walling and his captains all agree are talented and attentive. This group includes Hunt and Wacowiach, who will both see varsity minutes, along with swinger players Hailey Howe and Sam Morse, and junior varsity players Kassidy Walkowiak, Megan Kehoe, Kyla Lavoy, and Tabby Felisko. Jessica Reilly will step into the net for the Wildcats who lost keeper Brianna Rafus to an ACL injury over the summer. Rafus has been helping the Wildcats group of freshman goalie recruits and Walling credits her with helping Reilly figure out a position she never imagined playing.
“Overall my expectations are very optimistic,” said Walling. “It’s a good mix of veterans, specifically seniors and incoming freshmen with good skill and knowledge of the game. There’s a steep learning curve for those freshmen, but from what I’ve seen they’re up to the task. That’s why I took them.”
Fast and physical All-Leaguer Swanson is prepared to command a line of defense that includes juniors Jessica Fox and Natalie Herrick, and sophomore Maya Holschuh. This wealth of experience is something Swanson says will help with controlling the ball and in turn, the games. “We’ve really had to build up the defense since my sophomore year when three seniors left,” said Swanson. “We didn’t do a lot of passing defensively last year, we did more booting the ball up and really didn’t have a strong D. We’re very well rounded now.”
Cassie Bratton and Miranda Post round out the upperclassmen, while sophomores starting on the junior varsity squad include Kirra Courchesne, Theresa Snow, and Teya Johnson.
“I expect us to be playing our best ball come October, but we have a lot of work to do between then and now,” said Walling. “I think we’ll go deeper in the tournament this year and the switch to Division IV really will help us out with that.”
With almost an even number of underclassmen and upperclassmen, Walling expects his returning players to lead by example. “I would hope it comes naturally to any one of these girls to lead but I especially expect my captains to take the initiative and to help the others improve.”
So far, leading has come naturally to the three of them. “They’re eager to get better,” said Swanson. “They listen to everything you say and they pretty much put it all into action right away. They make it easy for us, and they respect us.” The Wildcats begin the season Tuesday, September 3, at home against Arlington at 6 pm.