Blackford girls soccer coach Michelle Gross saves her players from one decision each day. When the school day ends and her squad gets ready for practice, there is no debate over what to wear.
When they take the practice field, it’s clear Gross’ Bruins are all on the same team. Their matching red practice T-shirts and black shorts leave no doubt. For most of her eight-year tenure, Gross has utilized a practice uniform. It serves a variety of purposes, she said, one of them keeping her team unified and disciplined.
Senior Amber Underwood said she sometimes notices opponents aren’t as tight-knit as the Bruins. She sees this as an advantage.
“(Gross is) a firm believer in that we need to be a team on and off the field,” Underwood said. “And that’s what made us so strong over the past few years.”
The coach’s strategies seem to be working. This season’s Bruins have seen their share of milestones in the program’s young history, jumping out to an 11-2 start that’s among the best ever. And they’re eager to go for more.
Blackford beat Yorktown this year, the first ever win against the Tigers (not including a previous forfeit victory). They also picked up their 100th win in school history this year, in the program’s 13th season.
While the Blackford girls soccer team has come a long way since its inception, sometimes milestones need to be celebrated. There wasn’t any silence on the bus ride back from the 100th win, Underwood said. Even though the players had only recently learned they were nearing the mark, they were eager to celebrate the accomplishment. And it wasn’t the only time they stopped to acknowledge success.
“The Yorktown game was more of a feat for us,” Underwood said. “Because we knew ahead of time, and that momentum was going. It was our first game of the season too. So they were about the same kind of excitement level.”
The Bruins’ attention is now turned to a goal of turning in the team’s second sectional title in school history (the first came in 2009). Blackford will play Oak Hill on Oct. 7 in the opening round of the Blackford Sectional.
Some of Gross’ more long-term goals involve seeing more players play the sport at the college level, while also strengthening and expanding an already-existing youth program. For now, she’s enjoying seeing her players’ pride in the accomplishments the program is achieving this year.
Gross gets a chance to coach players with a variety of backgrounds in the sport. Some, like leading scorer Allie Jennerjahn (14 goals,) have been playing since they were young.
Others, like junior Marah Green, had barely any experience with the sport until joining the team as a freshman. She remembers telling her coach that she had speed, but little in the way of refined soccer skills.
Still, Green has become a part of the Bruins’ starting lineup as well. A defensive player, she has one assist this year. She’s grown to really enjoy the sport, she said.
“Coach’s leadership, I think, made a big difference compared to another coach who would have probably just put me aside and worked on the girls who already knew how to dribble, knew how to pass, or knew not to kick with their toe,” Green said. “Instead of just pushing me aside, she helped me and made sure I kept up with the rest of the team.”
While Gross wasn’t the first coach in school history (two others coached the Bruins in the first five years,) she inherited a program still in its early stages. She doesn’t want to sound cocky, but said she saw potential then for what the program has accomplished today.
“Yeah, but I’m an optimist,” Gross said. “I want big things for these girls.”