PATASKALA — Licking Heights girls soccer coach Mitch Tom said he believes in his team, and more importantly, he added the Hornets believe in themselves.
The Hornets needed a little reassurance during a brutal first week. The most difficult stretch of the season coincided with the injury bug biting. Heights played the first week without four starters, three of which are likely to return soon.
“We have a lot of good genuine young ladies,” Tom said. “It is not like we have a bunch of young ladies that are going to be down on themselves constantly, but at the same time, when you have a top-heavy schedule against rough teams, it does make it tough. It takes constant conversations with the girls to keep their confidence up.”
In back-to-back losses to Lancaster and Watkins Memorial, Heights stood its ground in the first half before buckling a little bit during the second half. Watkins scored three of its six goals during the final 15 minutes.
Jenna Tishenkel, Heights’ only senior, is one of the Hornets out injured. With only two substitutes available against Watkins, Tom did not use one the entire second half.
“In all reality, a lot of this is the injury bug,” Tom said. “We are hurting right now. At some point, you run out of fuel. At some point, you can’t keep going.”
Gaining possession in the midfield has been a struggle for the Hornets. Several times against Watkins, goalkeeper Katie Palombaro and sweeper Makaylynn Wilcox-Gates sent the ball ahead only to see it come right back at them after the Warriors quickly wrestled possession away.
The Hornets’ scoring opportunities have been limited. Against Watkins, McKenzie Mahl and Kortnie Starr each made a strong run down the left side but were unable to get the ball centered. Wilcox-Gates on three occasions just missed the net with free kicks.
“We are watching film, and we are looking at things and constantly having conversations about being able to maintain our shape and maintain our spacing in the midfield,” said Tom, whose team visits Amanda-Clearcreek on Saturday. “It takes a while to have those where you are speaking the same lingo. It takes some time to let it sink in.”
Heights’ bright spot so far certainly has been the play of Palombaro. The junior never played soccer until July. She had 31 saves against Watkins.
With Heights needing a goalkeeper, Palombaro seemed to have the perfect combination of hands and footwork for the job based on her experience starting for the Heights basketball and softball teams. She first worked with Meghan Jayes, a player for California University of Pennsylvania, and since with volunteer coach Logan Hamilton.
“We have worked with (Palombaro) non-stop to get her prepped and ready,” Tom said. “She knew that she was going to be target practice. She knew what was coming her way, and she has really stepped up to the challenge.”