No matter what Derby girls soccer coach Robert Rhodes has tried to do the past six seasons, the Panthers have been unable to veer off one direction or the other from a mediocre record.
Starting this season 2-0 with victories over Eisenhower and Heights, two quality opponents, gives Rhodes hope that this is the season Derby breaks through. The Panthers play Kapaun Mount Carmel in the Titan Classic Blue Bracket semifinals at 6:15 p.m. Thursday.
“We have girls that are relentless and want to win,” Rhodes said. “When I started, seven years ago, we only had a handful of club girls. Now all of my varsity girls and probably half of the JV team are on a club team. We’re getting those girls that have the desire to win at the 6A level.”
Rhodes knew the season’s first six games, all against opponents with either winning or average records last season, would go a long way in determining how the season unfolded.
So far this season the difference has been the prowess of freshman Jordan Eickelman and sophomore Katie Hartman in scoring goals. In the season-opening 2-1 win over Eisenhower, Eickelman and Hartman assisted on each other’s goals. The next win, 3-2 over Heights in overtime, featured a hat trick from Eickelman.
Along with a talented midfield and a stingy back four, Rhodes see hope for becoming more than average.
“They’re small and quick, but they play physical like a larger player,” Rhodes said of his forwards. “They’re not afraid to body up. Those two are just always attacking, always putting a lot of pressure on the defense. They give us an advantage.”
No seniors — Bobby Bribiesca has been coaching soccer at Northwest since 1979. Never in three-plus decades of coaching has he had a team without a senior. Until this spring.
The Grizzlies are young — their captains are juniors Ashton Taylor, Lexi Clark, and Ellen Terhune — and the inexperience has already this season, defeating Garden City 4-3 and then losing 3-0 to Hutchinson.
Northwest plays East at 4 p.m. Thursday in the Titan Classic.
“You miss the leadership,” Bribiesca said. “But the ones that I do have, they’re good kids. They work hard.”
Bribiesca has stressed to compete in the City League, the juniors will have to play like seniors. That means playing strong, making good decisions, and leading the underclassmen.
It also means a unique challenge for a coach who thought he had seen everything.
“It’s more fun for me because I have to study everything a little harder and I like that kind of challenge,” Bribiesca said. “I have several players that can shine, but they don’t shine for 80 minutes. So I have to get creative. Now I have to really study and think about playing one girl 20 minutes and then another 40. I can’t just sit back and roll the ball out. This is a challenge.”
Freshman phenom — Newton has been a traditionally stingy defensive team under coach Scott Jantzi, and that has carried over again to this season.
But now the Railroaders have a goal-scoring machine in freshman Brookelyn Entz, who registered a hat trick in the first game of her career and has six goals and three assists in three games.
That begins to explain Newton’s 3-0 start, which it will attempt to continue at 8 p.m. Friday against Andover Central in the McPherson tournament.
“I would have to think she is one of the top freshmen in the state,” Jantzi said. “She’s come in and given us that offensive spark that we haven’t always had in the past.”
Entz is one of four freshmen that have already made an impact on the team, although Jantzi points out that Newton has relied heavily on veterans such as Hannah Carlgren, a senior centerback, and Katelyn Zinn, a junior forward who has scored four goals.
Newton has won its three games by a combined score of 12-1.