If the Stephen Decatur girls soccer team wants to repeat as Bayside champions, they will need to recapture some of the magic they had all of last season.
The Seahawks cruised to an 8-0 start before tying Parkside 1-1 on Oct. 2. Just 12 days later, the rematch resulted in an enthralling 2-1 win for the Seahawks, sending them to the Bayside Championship game against Queen Anne’s.
Against the Lions, Jillian Petito scored four goals on her birthday to give Decatur the Bayside title.
Along with Petito, Payton VanKirk in the midfield and Ally Beck on defense are the three players Decatur will miss most from the 11-0-1 regular season.
“We’ve adjusted really well,” second-year head coach Maggie Berke said. “We’re just becoming a unit, but a lot of the younger girls from last year that are now upperclassmen have really stepped up into a leadership role and taken charge.”
Berke, who was thrilled with the run last season in her first year, is not putting expectations on the girls this season.
Every year is different and every team is different, she said.
But the new crop of girls isn’t expecting anything less than another conference title.
“I think all of us have been kicking our butts in preseason, but I also think it’s really hard to live up to past seniors have been doing,” junior forward Mallory Vara said. “I think we’ll do great in the season but I think we have to keep working great together.”
Vara is one of the forwards who will be expected to produce some goals in place of Petito.
Along with Vara, senior midfielder Alexis McDonough, who might also see some time on defense, said Jess Wharton has been a nice addition to the front line this preseason. Berke added that junior Lexie VanKirk will be a threat as well.
“Of course we’re missing Jillian (Petito) a lot up top, so (Wharton’s) really aggressive and works really hard. Brigette (Ardis) is doing really well and Mallory (Vara) have been doing well up top.”
The team has accepted the fact there are big shoes to fill, and McDonough said they’re overcoming it through the preseason hustle and team bonding.
The area of the field returning the most starters is on defense, where senior Erin Smith and juniors Victoria Kerkovich and Claire Porter return in front of All-Bayside South First-Team goalkeeper Alexis Gausepohl.
There will not be a learning curve on the defense, Smith said.
“I think we know the teams we’re playing and I think we’re prepared for them,” she said.
Despite the positives in the early scrimmages, Decatur will be tested with the season opener Wednesday away at North Caroline, followed by three Bayside South games against James M. Bennett, Snow Hill and Parkside.
If the squad sticks together and takes a team approach, Berke said they will be OK.
“I think all the way around is going to be trusting each other and building that unity among the entire team,” she said. “We’ve lost players from all positions and we’ve put players in all new positions so it’s really going to be a full-field (approach).”
On Twitter/Instagram: @ByRyanMarshall