Season Preview: Girls soccer coach says 'This is the year'
The West Fargo girls soccer team, like the Greek myth of Sisyphus, has watched in frustration for three consecutive years as its dream of making the state tournament vanished - a proverbial boulder tumbling back down the hill.
Each time, the Packers have battled through the East Region tournament only to miss their chance at a berth in the big show.
As far as Packers coach Jon Melendez is concerned, that ends this season.
"(Co-coach Laura) Preston and I, our big goal was to improve this big group of freshmen four years ago," Melendez said. "The girls have worked hard and improved. Every year we keep trying to make it to state, and I think this is the year all that hard work will show."
Though it is impossible to predict the outcome so early in the season - West Fargo's first game was Tuesday against Fargo South - the Packers certainly have several advantages to help them crest the summit.
That "big group of freshmen" Melendez mentioned now has matured into a big group of seniors - 10, to be exact. The Packers graduated just two seniors from last season, Abbey Prudlick and Stephanie Larson, which means experience certainly is on their side.
"I think this is the most talented group that we've ever had," Melendez said. "Everything is coming together."
And so far, spring drills have given the West Fargo High School alum an optimistic view for the upcoming season.
"These practices show a great unity on the team," he said.
But don't get the wrong impression; making it through the very competitive EDC unscathed isn't going to be a walk in the park, Melendez said: "We'll definitely have tough competition along the way."
Right tools for the job
It will take unity and hard work to succeed where past teams have fallen short. "I expect everyone to be a leader this year, and especially our captains, as some of the top players in the EDC," he said.
Though he admitted everyone has an important role, Melendez pointed to several players who promise to be key forces on and off the field.
Senior captains Kelsey Kloos and Courtney Voeller, and junior captain Megan Rotert will lead the charge. Both Kloos and Voeller are returning two-time All-EDC team members, and will be "vocal leaders on the field," Melendez said.
Kloos is a midfielder who also earned a spot on the All-State team last season. "She is a leader," Melendez said. "Last year, she took our corner kicks and our deep balls. She's one of the best kickers on our team.
"I see her exceeding what she did last year. She got stronger, I can see that at practice, and her ball skills are much, much better. She will be a key ingredient to our success."
Whereas Kloos controls the kick, Voeller is known as a defenseman to look out for among conference opponents, Melendez said, and is "one of our best players in the back. Just being on defense she is noticed - well noticed."
Voeller will be key to keeping the ball away from goalkeepers Alyssa Lind and Melissa Halda.
"Lind continues to improve year after year, Melendez said.
Rotert, another midfielder, has earned her spot as captain and a bigger role on the field.
"She is going to be doing a little more grind work for us," Melendez said. "I can tell she's really stepped it up since last season."
Another key senior is Tia Lopez. The two-time All-EDC forward (2006-07 and 2007-08) is deadly on the field, with "the ability to score goals from every position on the field," Melendez said.
Kaylee Lothspeich, a defender, is back for her junior year, "but she plays like a senior every day," Melendez said.
Though veterans will lead the charge, it will take underclassmen to step up and carry their fair share of the load. Sophomore Lauren Johnson is one of these.
"She is going to be another key player for us," Melendez said. She "has the ability to drive the play. She'll give you everything, and will leave it all on the field."
As far as competition, Melendez knows conquering the state, much less the East Region, won't be easy. Fargo Shanley will be West Fargo's biggest challenge.
"We always struggle with them," he said.
But the Packers should be toe-to-toe every step of the way with any opponent they may face, Melendez said.
"Our girls have a tremendous energy, and tremendous attitude to get us where we want to go," he said.