Marc VanDover, the Rock Bridge girls’ soccer coach, knew he was going to have a young team this season.
But he had no idea he would have only one senior.
It hasn’t hurt the Bruins, though. VanDover said they’re working together better than last year’s team and they’re beating most teams.
Rock Bridge (10-5) started the season with three seniors: wing midfielder Emily Winter, forward Haley McDaniel and defensive midfielder Meghan Coburn.
The Bruins lost Winter on April 14 when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in a 1-0 win against Quincy. McDaniel left the team because of personal reasons, VanDover said.
That leaves Coburn, though VanDover said he thinks Winter’s help from the sidelines is invaluable.
“I still feel like you’re only as strong as your senior leadership,” VanDover said. “We’re getting that still from Winter and she’s finding ways to contribute. Coburn is picking it up and drawing everybody closer together, so the leadership still comes from the senior class.”
Coburn said she understood her role, being the only senior playing on a young team, and she welcomed the challenge.
Set an example
“It’s a big responsibility because you have to make sure you have a good influence on the other players and make sure you’re always positive,” Coburn said. “If the one senior is out there trash-talking everybody, then it rubs off bad on everybody else.”
Claire Schaeperkoetter, a freshman forward, said that though the Bruins are young, they are all doing their part to contribute.
“Coburn really sets an example for us,” she said, “and a lot of the younger players have really stepped it up recently to show the freshman how to act on the field and how to play on the field, and how to go out there and show what we’ve got.”
The Bruins have three juniors, so underclassmen dominate. It would be hard to tell by the way they have been playing lately.
Rock Bridge had won seven games in a row until it lost 2-1 to Quincy-Notre Dame on Tuesday night. The streak ran back to April 12 when Jefferson City beat the Bruins 1-0.
On the weekend, the Bruins won all three games that they played in the Smith-Cotton tournament, beating Hickman 1-0 with a goal from junior forward Karissa Nedoma.
It was the teams’ first rematch since last year’s district championship game, when the Kewpies won 1-0. Hickman also won the regular season match-up 1-0 last year.
VanDover said the biggest difference has been cohesiveness.
“They are a talented group, but they’re willing to work and they’re willing to help each other,” VanDover said. “That’s a huge difference.
“There’s not bickering going on, there’s not ‘who gets playing time and who doesn’t, who starts and who doesn’t?’ They’re just in for the team aspect.”
The biggest improvement has been on defense. Rock Bridge graduated eight seniors last year, losing its entire defense.
“We had a lot of holes to fill in there and it takes longer for a defensive unit to work together than it does, say, up top for the strikers,” VanDover said.
“It’s kind of a natural position and they get to experiment a little bit, whereas the defense is not experimenting. Every time the ball is in their area, the game is on the line, so it takes a little longer.”