By Kyle LoJacono
The Bishop McLaughlin girls soccer team has been one of the area’s most consistent the last few seasons.
The Hurricanes have made the postseason the last two years and three of the last four. Being a part of the seventh-year program’s budding winning tradition helps drive the squad.
“It gives you something to look forward to, and to work harder to get farther than you went last year,” said junior forward/midfielder Rickelle Vetzel. “It’s fun to try and live up to the standards of the past.”
A return to the playoffs would be accomplished by a new cast of characters, as Bishop McLaughlin lost 10 seniors from last year’s squad that went 13-6-3 and finished as the Class 1A-District 7 runner-up.
“We had a good nucleus of talent come in right when I took over as coach,” said fifth-year ‘Canes coach Tim Gronau. “Any time you get quality, club-level players you can have some type of success.”
Among the graduates are the Bishop McLaughlin’s top scorers from a year ago in Spencer Valdespino (18 goals, 17 assists), who signed with Nickle State University, and Corrie Bexley (12 goals, 11 assists).
“Between the two of them there was 120 goals during their time here,” Gronau said. “It’s hard to discount their contribution. Along with that, they were leaders on the field. Corrie, she wasn’t a captain, but there was a certain field generalship that she had. They’re both gritty and played hurt a lot. They just had that drive and determination. Any time your teammates know you’re competing while hurting it inspires them to give their best too.”
The squad does return four starters from a year ago: senior forward/midfielder Katie Hellman (15 goals, six assists); junior midfielder Sarah Kyle; sophomore midfielder Katie Comfort; Vetzel (13 goals, nine assists).
Gronau said Vetzel and Hellman will be leaned on to help replace the production from the departures.
“They’ve demonstrated that they can play at a high level,” Gronau said. “What we need is for them to play with a lot more confidence. They’ve been on the team for three and four years, so they need to be more tenacious and gritty.”
Vetzel said she also wants to do more than just score goals.
“I’m hoping to be kind of a leader for the new girls coming in, and help them when they need something,” Vetzel said. “I want to get better myself, score more goals and be a big part of the team.”
Gronau said a number of players did get significant playing time last year because of injuries, such as sophomore defender/midfielder Beth Heidrich.
“I didn’t think I’d get to have that much playing time,” Heidrich said. “I expected to be riding the bench, so being able to start really made me a better player.”
Heidrich said the time on the field also gave her confidence in what she and her teammates can do.
“We know we can work hard and still be good,” Heidrich said. “We have a good coach and good players. We just need to work hard.”
The 1A-7 tournament is at Calvary Christian Jan. 15 to 18, with the final on Jan. 18 at 7 p.m.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker