(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Replacing your school's all-time leading scorer is always a challenge but it is even harder when your team is made up of mostly underclassmen. That is what is what faces the Sikeston girls soccer team, but they seem ready for the challenge.
"We are really young, but we have most of our defense coming back so that should help," said Emily Eaves, one of two seniors on this year's Lady Bulldogs squad. "We have to learn how to score and we have some girls that have the ability if they can execute."
Last season Sikeston finished 10-14, the 10 wins tying the most in the school's short history of girls soccer. However, gone from that team is Abbi Keefer, Sikeston's all-time leading scorer. Keefer finished her career with 69 goals, 16 coming last season. The Lady Bulldogs also lost Arianne MacGillivray, who was a key part of the Sikeston defense.
"Losing Keefer and MacGillvray, they were two big parts of our team," said Sikeston coach Derrick Long. "We are going to be real young this year, but we have two seniors in Emily Eaves and Abby Harper and they are two good returning players."
Eaves is slated to play center defender but last season, Eaves played several different positions depending on what the team needed, including goalie during penalty kick situations. Long said he may do that again this year.
"She can do anything out there," Long said. "Wherever we put her, we know that we are going to get 100 percent. We will probably move her up if we get down and need a goal late, because she is real aggressive and makes good runs. If we get into any penalty kicks or shootouts, she'll go in goal, because she knows how to do it.
"She is pretty much the face of our team this year and we hope she does big things. We are really counting on her."
Eaves said switching positions isn't easy but it is something she is willing to do.
"It is kind of confusing because you never get settled in to a spot and never get comfortable with it," Eaves said. "But I know it is what you have to do for your team."
Along with Eaves, Long said he is expecting big things from Harper as well. Last season, Harper stepped in and made huge strides as a junior defender, leading Long to say she was their most improved player.
"Abby came through real big last year and we're hoping she builds on that," Long said. "She is a really strong defender, really fast. She's a good leader and is real vocal with the girls and it is starting to spread out here."
Harper said she enjoys being a leader.
"You have a lot of little eyes watching you so you have to lead by example," Harper said. "I think we will be pretty good, we just need to get a few games experience under our belt and learn how to play the game as a team."
One thing the Lady Bulldogs will have to do is find scoring. Their leading returning scorer is sophomore Keyonna Blissett. Last year Blissett teamed with Keefer as one of the top 1-2 punches in the area.
The sophomore says she is ready to step into the focal point of the Lady Bulldog offense.
"There is a lot of pressure but nothing that I can't handle," Blissett said. "(Coach Long) teaches us out here to be calm when your under pressure. It's not going to be easy but I'm up for the challenge."
"(Teams) are going to be keying on Keyonna now and we are going to need others to step up and try to fill Keefer's shoes," Long said. "Anytime you lose your all-time leading scorer, it's tough."
Another player Sikeston will be relying on is sophomore Kristin King. Last year as a freshman, King started the difficult position of center-midfielder.
"Coming back from last year, Kristin finally understands that center-mid spot, which is probably the hardest spot to play," Long said. "We threw her in as a freshman to learn it, but we are thinking with that experience she will be very big for us this year."
Sikeston will also be relying on freshman to help out with the scoring.
"We're hoping Katherine Inman comes up and fills some of the scoring void we are going to lose," Long said. "Inman, Monica Carter, Madison Chaney and Kelsey Dial are the four freshman that are going to get a lot of varsity minutes and they are just going to have to do a little apprenticeship learning as they go."
Sophomore Asia Liggins returns as the Lady Bulldog goalkeeper and Long is expecting big things.
"I think she is going to be competing for some all-state recognition," Long said. "She has gotten that much better and getting that year of experience under her belt, she is a heck of an athlete and she's going to do pretty good between the pipes."
With a young squad, nobody really knows what to expect, but Eaves feels they shouldn't be taken lightly.
"I think we are going to beat a few teams that maybe don't think we should beat them," Eaves said. "I think we'll be good."
Sikeston will open their season on March 24 when they host Harrisburg, Ill.
"We want to get to that district championship game, that's our goal every year," Long said. "Is it feasible? We'll see. I think it could be. We have a fun group and I think it is going to be a pretty good year."