A plethora of strong players on Middle Park High girls’ soccer team
For Sky-Hi News
With an abundance of athletes reporting for duty this season, Middle Park High School girls soccer coach Jackie Finley certainly can’t complain about numbers this year.
Now, the main thing to worry about is getting on the field on a regular basis.
Middle Park soccer’s season is underway, even as the Panthers have yet to step onto their own field, opening the schedule with a 2-2 tie Saturday on the road at Manitou Springs.
The draw was the result of two goals apiece in regulation play followed by two rounds of golden goal overtime in which neither defense let anything in the net.
“It was a very good effort, first time on a full field this season,” Finley said. “A very physical game, lots of back and forth.”
Juniors Emry Burns and Josie Childers each netted a shot, with Burns also adding an assist. In goal, junior Ellie Holinka and sophomore Sarah Briggs combined for 24 saves across the day.
While Finley only had one freshman suiting up for the opening game, she has a considerable amount of players ready to step up.
“It’s a huge freshman class, a lotta girls who are new, and it’s a really cool thing to see because I think it’s more girls than we’ve ever had in the program,” she said. “We technically have enough girls for three teams, which is insane, but it’s a good problem to have.”
Finley has five seniors this year: Jenna King, Lily Smith, Ashtyn Laraby, Keelan Thomas and Katie Riesberg.
“Those five have been playing since they were freshmen,” she said. “The senior class compared to the rest of them is actually pretty small. We had a huge boom this year in interest in the program, which is awesome, but it provides new challenges as far as splitting up teams and planning practices. We’ve been practicing in the Dome, which is a significantly smaller field and it’s turf. I’ve told the team that can be the biggest adjustment at the beginning of the season — going from a smaller, compact playing field to full-size, and they’ve been really good sports about it.”
Middle Park is scheduled for its game in Frontier League play at KIPP Denver Collegiate this Wednesday, which was originally supposed to be the home opener, yet winter leftovers have dictated differently.
“Our first home game now I don’t think is until after spring break in that first week of April,” Finley said.
After being hired to lead the program in 2020, this will be the first time Finley will oversee the team in a “normal” season. Her first season was canceled entirely after two weeks, while last year started much later and ended in the summer.
“I’ll miss being able to start on the field right away like we did last year, but now we have more games and more time between games, so it’s not such an aggressive schedule and we have time off to work on things in practice,” Finley said. “Last year, it was really stressful for them, because they were dedicated but conflicted about when things like graduation and vacations would come up after school would come out. A lot of them are really happy things are back to normal.”
In 2021, Middle Park maintained an 8-3 overall record, placing second in the Frontier League and entering the playoffs, during which it fell 2-0 to Colorado Springs Christian.
Middle Park said farewell to several key players via graduation, but according to MaxPreps statistics, most of the squad’s big scorers are back.
Burns was tied with then-senior Katie Mackendrick in total goals for the spring with 15, as well as the leader in steals with 10, plus two assists.
Smith had 12 goals and three assists last year, while Thomas compiled six goals and four assists.
“That was a really good core group of girls, and they all brought something a little bit different to the team — different aspects of offense and defense or aggressiveness. We’ve also got a good group of seniors this year and kind of a similar dynamic,” Finley said. “Some that are really skilled up front, some skilled in the back, good team leadership and competitiveness. It’s good to see them stepping into those roles that were vacated and so far doing a good job.”
Last season was a regular scoring spree for the Panthers, who won their first seven games, six of which wound up being double-digit massacres, before The Academy proved to be the Panthers’ only conference defeat at 8-2.
Finley fully expects the Wildcats to be the biggest obstacle this year in Frontier play.
“It’s always us or them, and they’re always our biggest competition in the league if not necessarily on the schedule. Sometimes on the schedule there’s schools where they barely have enough girls to make a team. Then there’s other groups where they have plenty of kids to pull from. I wish it weren’t that way. I wish that every school had a solid program, but you can’t always control how many kids come out.”
Finley plans to have players prepped mentally as well as physically, with one of her early-season assignments for athletes setting goals for the season.
Thankfully, she said, most of the Panthers are on the same page about what they want to achieve.
“A lot of them have said they want to win our league and make it past the first round of playoffs,” she said. “They put down those goals themselves, and I know that they are very capable of doing that. It’s going to come down to competitiveness and effort. I have all the faith that we can get into the playoffs and do well, but it’ll take a lot of work and coming together as a team.”
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