Nine of 14 varsity members are freshmen.
"I'd put these freshmen up against any team I've ever had," said Derrick Long, the only head coach in the four-year existence of girls soccer at Sikeston High School. "They're just a step ahead. A lot of them have been playing club ball in Cape Girardeau or St. Louis, so they've had a lot of experience."
Long, assisted by recently-returned Iraqi war veteran Doyle Noe, lights up when talking about the long-term prospects of this young team.
"Coach Noe and I are excited about this team, because we think six or seven games in, we're going to start jelling and we can build on that for the next four years," said Long.
"It's going to take a while and we're going to take some lumps early," he added, "because it takes a while for freshmen to get the pace of the game down. It's a lot faster than what they've been accustomed to."
While the freshmen and the team, in general, are maturing, the absence of two players lost to injury will certainly be felt.
Junior Ali Blurton, the team's leading scorer the past two years, has decided to sit out and rest an injured ankle suffered during basketball season.
"That's a loss of 22 goals over the last two years," said Long. "That's a big shoe to fill."
ALthough She has yet to play a single minute, highly-touted freshman midfielder Jordi Ferrell was expected to play a key role.
But Ferrell, an experienced club player and junior Olympic Development Program selectee, suffered a torn ACL in Sikeston's final basketball game and is out indefinitely.
Long said Ferrell may return to playing shape in time for the Class 1 district tournament in mid-May.
"Whether she gets back this year or not, we're expecting a lot out of her in the next three years," said Long.
Three returning upperclassmen, senior defender and tri-captain Amber Coffey, senior goalie Audra Wooley and junior sweeper and tri-captain Paige Silverthorn, who Long calls his best all-round player, will be counted upon to provide leadership and steadiness for this young squad.
Junior defender Tiffany Robison and sophomore midfielder Emily Taylor are the other non-freshmen team members.
Leading the freshmen contingent is center midfielder Jennifer Millington.
So impressive has been Millington, that she was chosen one of the Lady Bulldogs' tri-captains, the first freshman to be so honored according to Long.
Forward Jenni DeWitt is another promising freshman who, along with Millington and forward Megan Underhill, will be counted upon to provide scoring for the Bulldogs.
Said Long, "One of the things we really need to work on is putting it in the net, but we hope Jennifer or Jenni can each throw eight or nine goals in and we have high hopes that Megan will also contribute as a goal scorer."
Other freshmen expected to get large chunks of playing time are forward Brittany Jenkins, midfielder Caitlin Underwood, defender Kaitlyn Turnbow, midfielder Kelsey Lawrence, midfielder Laura Atchison and forward Katie DeLaRosa.
With only three substitutes, conditioning is an important issue for the Bulldogs.
"One of the main things we're working on is conditioning," said Long, "to make sure most of the girls can make it 80 minutes."
Despite the preponderance of youth, Long feels the program is still miles ahead of past years.
"With a new program, you're going to get athletes to come out, but not necessarily soccer players who know what they're supposed to do without the ball. These girls have been playing for a while and they've already grasped that.
"So now, coach Noe and I can start bringing the practices up a level while the learning curve's going up. That's exciting for us. We don't have to teach the basics all the time. With just that aspect alone, we're taking a couple of steps forward."
Coming off a 4-14 season, Sikeston competes in the tough SEMO Conference with Cape Girardeau Notre Dame, Poplar Bluff, Cape Central and Jackson.
"I think we're going to be more competitive against the conference teams," said Long, whose team has finished in the cellar each year. "I think we're going to give every team a run."