PATASKALA – The Watkins Memorial girls soccer team is not out to embarrass opponents.
What the Warriors need to do is make good use of every opportunity. Despite sharing the Licking County League title with Granville in 2013, the Warriors still are smarting from a first-round tournament loss to Hilliard Darby.
With that in mind, Watkins beat Heath 13-1 in the LCL opener on Aug. 21. First-year Watkins coach Kaylee Phillips used her entire bench, but she stayed on her team to continue to play with a relentlessness needed to combat the high-caliber teams the Warriors will see down the road.
“Just because we beat them 13-1 and I think had a similar score last year, we came out with respect,” said Phillips whose team visits Licking Heights on Thursday . “Every girl that went in played hard, and they weren’t goofing off. It is just a mentality that we have to keep.
“When we play Pickerington North, we are not going to be able to make that same first-touch mistake. It is just cleaning up those types of things and demanding perfection.”
Phillips is coming into a good situation as the Watkins program has made huge strides during the past three seasons. The Warriors have a great blend of seniors, many of whom have played varsity since their freshman seasons, and waves of talent coming from the younger levels.
Possession will be key as Watkins attempts to keep the traffic away from junior goalkeeper McKenzie Pemberton, who has the unenviable task of replacing four-year starter Madi Moore. Seniors Sam Newman and Maddie Berry will take charge when needed.
“Sam Newman and Maddie Berry continue to run the center of the field,” said Phillips, who became the first player in Licking County history to score 100 career goals while playing for Watkins before leading Capital to the NCAA Division III tournament.
“We have experienced players that have been playing varsity for two or three years, and it really shows.”
Also in the back is sophomore Theresa LaGreca, who plays and leads beyond her age. Phillips held captain interviews, bringing in baseball coach Donald Schone to assist in evaluation. LaGreca was a rare sophomore to earn co-captain status.
“I sometimes forget she is only a sophomore,” Phillips said. “All four of us, the first person that came to mind was Theresa after her interview. She has just shown great maturity on the field and off the field. I couldn’t be more proud of her, and she actually scored a goal (against Heath). … She took it from the back and pretty much said, ‘Yeah, it’s my turn.’”
Scoring should not be an issue despite a 2-0 loss to New Albany on Saturday. The Warriors return all-league performer Amberly Knox, a junior, and she will have plenty of help from senior Natalie Buscemi, junior Amber White and sophomore Baylee Small. Junior Kristin Spurbeck also can score from the midfield as shown by her hat trick against Heath.
The sophomores particularly have a strong bond as many began playing together on club teams when they were in elementary school. That is a common theme throughout the program. Phillips was hired in June just before the annual youth camp, and there, she got a sneak peak at some of the area’s youngest talent.
“The youth camp was awesome,” Phillips said. “I know the sixth-grade class is a huge soccer class. I actually taught some of them in fifth grade. It is just an exciting time in Pataskala. When I was there, we had maybe a handful of girls play club. Now, we have 10 or 12 girls on club teams in the off-season, and it is really starting to show.”
Another LCL title, which will not be easy to achieve with Division II state runner-up Granville looming ahead, and the program’s first extended postseason run during this recent run of success would continue the momentum. Phillips, however, will not be afraid to put a personal touch on the program.
“I am big believer in shaking things up every now and then,” Phillips said.