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New coaches face high expectations

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

First-time head coaches Jacob Boggs and Jamie Hallis have taken over girls’ soccer programs accustomed to winning, and neither expect that to change this season.

Hallis takes an Eastbrook team that finished 14-3-2 and won a Class A sectional championship last year. She is the wife of Panthers boys’ goal Adam Hallis and was an assistant under former coach Rebecca Shrontz.

Boggs just became Marion coach last week after Bre Laypoole resigned abruptly and concluded his ninth practice with the team Wednesday. Initially hired to be Laypoole’s assistant, Boggs inherits a program that won sectionals in five of six years until last year when it finished with an 11-6 record.

Despite the late start, Boggs embraces the expectations and is even willing to double down on them even while he and the team are in catch-up mode.

“I’m always a very optimistic person, but a very honest person, and I told the girls that if they trust me and put in the effort I expect to go to state,” Boggs said Wednesday evening. “We are rebuilding, but we got enough talent in the right spots and enough athletes that I can use in a game

“I’ve been around game long enough to know that we got enough talent not just to win sectional and regional but to go to state,” he added. “The big if is if they put work in the game and listen.” 

Eastbrook returns nine of 11 starters from a team that gave perennial state power Fort Wayne Blackhawk a competitive match at regional before losing 3-1, and Blackhawk advanced to the final four. Sophomore Sarah Foulk and juniors Natalie Danals are a high-scoring tandem who each scored 20 goals last year, and the Panthers are further bolstered by a promising freshman class.

“This is a group that loves soccer and at the end of every practice they are not ready to go home,” Hallis said. “So I don’t think they feel the expectations, they’re just excited to play.

“I feel some of that expectation because I can see all the talent we have, and I feel pressure to use the talent in the best way possible.”

The Giants and Panthers take part with the other county schools Mississinewa and Oak Hill in the Grant County Soccer Jamboree at 2 p.m. Saturday at Eastbrook before embarking on the regular season.

Oak Hill is coming off an 11-5-1 season with a sectional runner-up finish to Eastbrook and return 18 goal scorer Carlee Biddle. Mississinewa had its best season at 7-9-2 and welcomes back top goal scorer Alayna Webb (16), although she will sit out the start of the season with a concussion.

Marion had only 13 girls committed to play soccer but another 10 came out after Boggs became coach. The newcomers include basketball players Markeisha Jackson, Jazmyn Turner and Alanya Harvey and while they have never played soccer before could fill key roles for the Giants.

Turner and Harvey are training in goal, while Jackson’s speed has Boggs devising ways to get her the ball in space. The Giants’ top returnees include junior Taylor Kitts who led the team with 12 goals and junior Ellie Vermilion who had four goals.

“(Jackson’s) got speed and now that I know that I can figure out how to make the right runs and how to work with Elle Vermilion and Taylor Kitts on feeding her the ball in the right spots,” Boggs said.

“We’re working Jazmyn in goal right now, but once Harvey is eligible we’ll see whoever is better,” he added. “We could move ‘Jaz’ out on the field and she would be a great target on set pieces.”

The Giants attack also features Morgan Hartman at striker and Claire Hendricks and Mariah Shigley on the wings. Gabi Reed is another who offers goal-scoring ability.

“I’ve been trying to figure out the girls tendencies’ plus get them acclimated to my style which is very hands on and a very demanding process,” Boggs said.

Eastbrook averaged an impressive 3.6 goals per match and eight of the nine players who scored are back. Besides Foulk (22 goals) and Danals (20), the Panthers had contributions from Natalie Lakanen (12). Danals had two knee operations after the season but is nearly back to full strength, Hallis said.

Freshmen Johwen McKim and Chloe McDaniels are two skilled offensive players who give the Panthers additional punch. McKim’s speed and athleticism is a dimension the Panthers have not had in previous years.

“It’s fun to coach a team where you’re never quite sure where the goals are going to come from,” Hallis said. “It’s great to look out there and see five attackers and any one of them can take it and get a good shot off.”

Gabby Scott returns at goalie for the Panthers and Grace Brown steps in to replace Addison Wine, the main graduation loss. Shauna Singer and Naomi Diller are the defensive mainstays.

“Our two goals for this season are we want to play beautiful soccer and go farther than we did last year,” Hallis said.

Andrea Wilson begins her fifth year at Mississinewa and has seen incremental growth in the program each year. This year, she had 24 out for soccer, the most ever, and there are some promising freshmen among the newcomers.

“We have a lot of inexperienced players,” Wilson said. “We have a lot of good athletes and they are catching on quick, but there is a lot of learning to a bigger extent this year.”

Beth Lucas is another of the Indians principal players and she will be joined by her freshman twin sisters Isabella and Olivia Lucas. Taylor Ulerick showed improvement during the season and is another goal scoring threat, and Aella Ward is another promising freshman.

Losing Webb for the early matches will be difficult, Wilson said.

“She’s just a big presence on the field,” Wilson said. “But a lot of girls are stepping up and working hard because they know they need to replace her.”