Carson girls soccer doesn't rebuild, it reloads. But the jury will be out this year as the Senators must replace seven starters from last year's Northern 4A championship team. They open the season tonight at 6 p.m. against McQueen in Reno.
"It'll be a tough act to follow, that's for sure" coach Mike Popp said duplicating last year's 17-0-1 record. "The chemistry is really good right now, actually better than last year. So that's a plus. At least we get McQueen. It's a non-league game and it doesn't count."
Yeah, only the outcomes of Sierra League games determine which teams qualify for the Northern 4A playoffs. But Popp's teams have been pounding other teams for years. And the consensus is that Carson will be down this year and plenty of other teams are ready to take the Senators' place in the league's upper tier.
Douglas has the majority of last year's team back, which lost to Carson 1-0 in the regional championship game. Reno has nine seniors on its roster and South Tahoe has been getting better each year and should easily qualify for the playoffs. So could Carson, which also won the zone championship in 1998, finish fourth in the league? Not so fast, says Popp.
"I got a positive outlook. I'm not really too discouraged. We still have a strong group of players. The next couple of years we'll be a contender. We're going to be right there again."
With returning players or starters throughout the starting lineup, Popp does have a reason to be optimistic. Kristen Hale and Chrissy Katzorke will start at forward. Returners Katie Kotter and Stephanie Giomi will start in the midfield. Popp is still uncertain on a few positions but Allie Davis and Carolina Hernandez, two defenders who were key players in last year's team, will need to assume even bigger roles this season. And Popp really believes Kotter, who played in the shadow of Erin Stieber and Ali Banister last year, will be a star.
"She's just a naturals athlete," Popp said of Kotter, who's also a two-year starter on the basketball team. "She knows how to control the game and she has that year of experience."
Carson has always had a nice pipeline that produces young, talented players and this year won't be any different. Popp plans on starting two freshman in Cassie Bowman, who will be paired with Kotter in the central midfield, and Kasey Cano. Another freshman could be starting by the midpoint of the season.
So while it might be hard for the Senators to become the first team since Wooster in '93 and '94 to win back-to-back zone titles, Popp believes the potential is still there.
"Right now we're developing," Popp said. "We got some big shoes to fill. Are we going to go undefeated? Who knows. The first two or three games will be an adjustment period for us. But we're going to be OK."
One thing's for sure, though. There will be plenty of other teams waiting to see exactly what 'OK' really means.
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