ARGOS — In many ways, the story of the Lady Dragons’ success this year has been the opposite of the Argos boys soccer team’s journey.
While the Dragons returned eight starters from last year en route to their repeat Caston Regional championship, Argos’ girls lost eight seniors from last year’s campaign, including a strong middle core in defenders Karalei Kring and Kerri Bair and midfielders Stefany Parrish and Carly McCay. The team did return its top three scorers in 2011 All-State forward Jami Patterson, Raelyn LaFrance and Allison Flower, but the Lady Dragons found themselves with big shoes to fill in the midfield and on the back line.
Coaches love to say that adversity brings opportunity, and when returning starting defender Emily Alcorn fell ill and was sidelined for nine games midway through the year, freshman Abby Stauffer was bumped into a starting role at center back, where she made a big save in the Lady Dragons’ repeat regional championship win over Wheeler last week. Junior Madeline Williams stepped up, as did sophomore Haley Kepler after being sidelined with an ACL injury throughout her freshman season, and the new cast gelled with Sammie Hopkins and Shelby Sanders, who added much-needed experience as returning starters at midfield and in the back, respectively.
The learning curve proved quick, and after surrendering seven goals in two games, Argos gave up just eight scores in its next 10 outings. Eighteen games after a rough 0-2 start to the year, the Lady Dragons were claiming the program its first repeat regional championship.
“At the beginning of the year we really struggled,” said Argos girls soccer coach Jon Alcorn. “The first two games particularly we gave up something like seven goals, and I think four or five goals we kind of scored ourselves with a couple own goals and some PKs, some bonehead plays, and it was just clear that we weren’t connecting very well in the middle. The most satisfying thing was that they didn’t take too long to really tighten up defensively.
“Basically after the first two weeks it was like, boom, we’re competitive all of a sudden… It was a little bit of a surprise that we gelled, especially defensively, so quickly.”
Success often gives rise to more success, and with last year’s regional championship under its belt, the 2012 Lady Dragons came into the season expecting to win. But part of the lesson this year’s squad picked up from that championship team was a lesson in teamwork, and that, as much as anything else, says Alcorn, is the reason Argos is making a repeat appearance at semistate this weekend.
“I definitely think that with the success they’ve had they expect to win. But the chemistry is good too, so they can take a blow sometimes and just keep going and believing that we’re going to do good things, and if we keep doing good things it usually goes our way,” said the Lady Dragons boss.
“Part of it is last year’s team was one of my best teams ever as far as chemistry. That particular part of the success, the off-field and chemistry part, I think really carried over to the kids this year. I have another great team chemistry-wise. They work hard in practice… and they really don’t get rattled.”
The Lady Dragons will need all the nerve they can muster as they face a tough road at their home semistate at Eugene Snyder Field Saturday.
With a No. 11 ranking in the final Indiana Soccer Coaches Association Class A Poll, Argos (13-5-2) is the underdog in a stacked field that includes No. 2 West Lafayette (13-4-1), No. 3 Mishawaka Marian (15-4-2), and No. 6 Fort Wayne Bishop Luers.
The good news for the Lady Dragons is they’ll only have to play one of the state’s No. 2- and 3-ranked teams as Marian faces off with West Lafayette in the early semifinal at 10 a.m., while Argos plays Luers in the late semifinal at noon with the championship scheduled for 7 p.m.
Key to the semifinal match-up will be containing leading Luers scorer Mayson Whitman, who boasts 28 goals on the year, and midfielders Kelly Dwire and Abbie Reimbold complicate matters with the ability to score from long range.
“We pretty much expect that anybody we play is generally going to be faster or bigger than us. It’s not always the case, but especially at this level we expect that,” said Alcorn. “Our main job is we’re going to have to find a way to contain Whitman because she’s by far their biggest goal scorer and she just knows how to finish. Also they have quite a few good midfielders who can shoot from distance and have a lot of goals and assists from there. We’re going to really have to pick up their midfield and particularly the area from 18 to 35 yards, that’s going to be our red zone. We’ve been pretty successful in keeping teams out of the box… but when it comes to that area with the long shots that’s always a weakness in girls soccer because the keepers aren’t as tall, and when you have a couple mids like they do in Dwire and Reimbold who can hit with accuracy from distance, that’s going to be a challenge.”