By AUSTIN COLBERT
Hays High School seniors Reagan Kaiser and Lacey Pfannenstiel want the 2014 girls' soccer season to be about the team. And by the end of the season, they might get their wish, but until then it will be up to them to help guide the young Indians in their first season under coach Saul Hernandez.
"I know we did lose a lot from last year, but the freshmen, a lot of them coming in have been playing at the club level," said Pfannenstiel, who plans to sign with Bethel College on Friday. "They have the talent we are looking for. They are really good. I feel like even though we are kind of new this year, we have a couple of sophomores and juniors that will keep us going."
Hays High will open its season at 4 p.m. Thursday against Thomas More Prep-Marian at the HHS soccer field. The Indians are coming off a record-breaking 15-3-1 season, which included an 8-0 record in the Western Athletic Conference and a trip to the state quarterfinals.
This season looks to be more of a challenge after the Indians lost four first-team All-WAC players to graduation in Laura Truman, Megan Bird, Shelby Dinkel and leading scorer Taylor Herman.
The coaching staff is high on its incoming freshmen and returning sophomores, but the strength of the team will be carried by the feet of Kaiser and Pfannenstiel.
Kaiser, who signed with Rockhurst University in February, is the reigning WAC Player of the Year as well as a first-team All-WAC selection as a defender.
She led an Indian defense that allowed only 11 goals all of last season, a school record.
"After last year she is going to gain a lot of attention," Hernandez said. "Teams are going to know her but the good thing about defense is you can't really avoid her or double team her because she is not on the ball."
Pfannenstiel will return at midfield to help set up an Indian offense which matched the 2012 team's record with 48 goals scored in a season. But instead of relying on a talented senior class at forward, Pfannenstiel will look to lead what could be an entirely freshmen unit up front.
"She is very important," Kaiser said of Pfannenstiel. "Everything goes through her and she is really good at directing everyone and opening up the field, seeing where the ball is available and talking to everyone. She and I have good communication back there and she comes back to help out and directs them up front as well."
While there will be many new faces on the field for Hays High, the sideline is also going to look different without reigning WAC coach of the year Chris Michaelis there to lead. Michaelis resigned in April after 15 years at the helm.
Hernandez has been able to slowly transition into his role as head coach after serving as the team's assistant last season. He is also the boys' soccer team's head coach and served in that capacity in the fall.
"After the successful seasons they've been having, I know it's going to be a difficult spot to take. But I like the challenge," Hernandez said. "I think a lot of the teams in the WAC are going to overlook us since we lost a lot of seniors, but I think we have the talent that we can be up in the same place we left off last year."
TMP girls' soccer team looking to make more strides
Darryl Wellbrock took over the TMP girls' soccer team five years ago and has seen the team get better each year, if slowly. The Monarchs are coming off a 4-8 season, one that included the program's first mercy rule win (10-0 over Word of Life) and a school-record 26 goals scored in a season.
And despite what will be a team full of predominantly sophomores, Wellbrock is hopeful the Monarchs will once again make strides toward a winning record this year.
"Every season we have gotten better, and I don't think this year is going to be an exception," Wellbrock said. "We are going to have a lot of sophomores and freshmen on the field. We are very young, but I'm excited about that for years to come. We have improved every year and I anticipate this will be another year we will improve and get better."
With 23 players out this season, the Monarchs have one of their deepest rosters in years. They are led by a group of 12 sophomores, many of which played an important role as freshmen last season.
In that group of sophomores are defenders Tyra Younie, Annaka Applequist and Morgan Weber, midfielders Rachael Hamel and Kelsey DeWitt, and forward Bailey Hageman. All six are expected to start for the Monarchs this season.
Three freshmen are also expected to start against Hays High in the season opener on Thursday, including defender Raegan Billinger, midfielder Megan Koenigsman and goalkeeper Deonna Wellbrock.
Rounding out the starters is junior midfielder Grace Volker and junior forward Alyssa Keil. Coach Wellbrock also said there are three or four others that should press for varsity action.
"We are deeper than we've ever been. Usually I have just a couple of players that are higher-level players," Darryl Wellbrock said. "This year I'm thinking I'm at least 13 deep already, and some of the other girls are pushing pretty hard and we might even be better than that."
TMP will play its home games at the Bickle/Schmidt Sports Complex this season, beginning with Wichita Independent on April 3.