ST. GEORGE – Heading into the 2014 season, the Dixie girls soccer team knows exactly where it stands — squarely with a target on its back.
The defending 3A champions did not lose for 18 consecutive games on their way to the title, and did not lose a Region 9 contest in 2013.
“We know we have the target, so I think we’re going to have to approach it differently from last year,” senior Cassidy Gray said. “I think more our mentality this year is we’re going to be pushing ourselves a lot more, because our goal is obviously to win the state title again.”
To do that, the Flyers will have to replace 12 seniors from last year’s squad, including six from the starting lineup.
“There are a number of sophomores that I’ve been impressed with, a few freshman have been impressive, it just depends on how they can step up and perform at the varsity level,” Dixie head coach Burt Myers said. “It’s a little bit more physical, it’s faster, and those sophomores have to play like juniors.”
One of the biggest losses, however, could be that of graduated goalkeeper Liz Empey. She was responsible for 10 shutouts last season, and allowed only one regulation goal during the Flyers’ playoff run. Vying to replace her is junior Taylor Whitson, who is trying out soccer for the first time.
“It’s going to be tough to replace Liz. Liz struggled a little bit in the preseason, and we expect the goalies we have this year are going to struggle a little bit,” Myers said. “We’ve got … a junior (Whitson) that’s going to be very good — it’s her first year playing soccer, and she’s coming on very well.”
Whitson allowed two goals during the Flyers’ season-opening loss to Lehi Friday night — Dixie’s first loss in 364 days. However, Myers said the keeper played well, and neither goal was really her fault.
A strength for the Flyers this season, is going to be its midfield, where four senior captains lead the way. Jessica Ogilvie — the team’s only returning defender — Alexa Estridge and Aubri Challis join Gray as team leaders for Dixie.
Challis, the team’s leading goal-scorer from a season ago, said she is fully recovered from a torn ACL suffered during basketball, but missed Friday’s opener due to a tweaked hamstring that happened during tryouts. She expects to be back on the field soon.
“We’re just going to be working our butts off. We kind of have a target on us, just because we won last year,” Challis said. “We have a great sophomore class coming up, so I think we should be strong.”
With only two juniors on the team, the sophomore and freshman class is going to have to be strong.
Despite the turnover, one thing that has Myers excited is his team’s speed.
“I think we’re going to be faster this year than we were last year, and that’s scary, because we were fast. I think we’re going to be quicker,” he said. “We just need to learn the ropes, we need to learn each other and play together. As soon as we get those things down, we’re going to be tough. We’re going to be a strong team.”
The Flyers finish up their preseason next week with a trio of matches — at home against Cottonwood Monday, and on the road at Uintah and Springville, Thursday and Friday. Dixie will then kick off Region 9 action at Hurricane on Tuesday, Aug. 26.
“We’ve got to enjoy that state championship for a number of months, and now it’s a fresh year, so people will be gunning for us a bit,” Myers said. “We have to step up and play soccer; it’s a new year. That championship year is gone, it’s past.”
Follow Tim Olsen on Twitter, @TheRealTO.