Panthers crush Meteors in 6-0 soccer season opener
The Middle Park Panthers Girl’s Soccer Team kicked off the season in dominant fashion on Thursday night, defeating the Lotus School for Excellence Meteors, 6-0. The win is a promising start for a Panthers team hoping to compete for a league title this season, and secure a first-round bye in the state tournament.
Middle Park started quick with goals by Juniors Ellie Mackendrick and Taylor Ehlert, before slowing the rest of the half.
“The first five minutes we played really well, but they got a little soft in the rest of the half,” said Jeff Ehlert, who’s entering his second season as Head Coach. “We had a talk at halftime and cleaned things up. We played really well in the second half.”
Freshmen Abby Kuhnel proved an immediate contributor in her first game, getting the scoring started in the second half, but Junior Lisa Mcclain was the story of the night, recording the game’s final three goals and taking home a hat trick. Ehlert, Freshmen Katie MacKendrick, and Juniors Caitlin Davis and Peyton Olson all had an assist.
The team appears to be adjusting quickly to a new talent base. They lost six seniors after last season, including star-player Annalys Hanna. Hanna was absolutely dominant for the Panthers last year, leading the team in goals (25) and points (59) by a pretty wide margin. She averaged 1.8 goals-per-game, and more than 4 points-per-game (players receive two points for a goal, and one point for an assist).
But Mcclain looked ready to jump into the spotlight during Thursday’s game, which is no surprise. She was second on the team in goals (15) and points (36) last season, and she’ll get plenty of opportunities, as well as responsibility, as the Panthers transition from last year’s 4-1-3-2 formation into a 4-2-3-1 formation with Mcclain as the solo striker.
The pressure won’t all be on Mcclain. Coach Elhert identified Kuhnel, Mackendrick and Taylor Ehlert as potential standout players on the offensive side of the ball, and Olsen, Davis and Senior Captain Emily Jensen on defense.
Ehlert is also confident in his goalies. Freshmen Mia Rimmer started in goal for the Panthers in the opener, making four saves in 60-shutout minutes. Sophomore Lela Myers made one save in 20-minutes. But perhaps the most exciting is Senior Kiera Barr, a pure athlete who’s still trying to learn the ropes.
Said Ehlert on Barr: “From what we’re seeing after just a couple practices, she’s very promising. She could be an all-state goalie this year, even though she’s never played before. She’s just that gifted of an athlete.”
The goal this season is to win a league title, with the ultimate goal of earning a bye in the first round of the state tournament. Only 24 teams go to the state tournament, and the top-eight seeds get a first round bye and are guaranteed to host in the second round.
“That’s such a huge advantage,” said Ehlert. “Almost always at least seven of those teams move on after the second round, so if you’re outside that top eight you’re really reaching to advance.”
It won’t be an easy journey. Conference matchups against DSST: Stapleton, who went 6-0 in league last year, and the defending state champions The Academy Wildcats, will be key.
Still, Ehlert believes his team has what it takes.
“I feel like we should have higher expectations this year than we did last year,” said Ehlert. “What I’m trying to teach them is that when you have a really talented team like we do, that as long as nobody on the team cares about who gets the credit than we can really accomplish some amazing things…So far they’re working hard for me, and I’m really proud of the work they’re putting forth.”
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