Like several programs in the area, the East girls soccer team is in the midst of a youth movement. Currently eight spots in coach Dylan Gruntzel’s rotation belong to either freshmen or sophomores.
While Bishop Carroll and Northwest, both led by large senior classes, remain the teams to beat in the City League, teams like East are hopeful to compete this season with promise of becoming a veteran team in the near future.
East’s 4-3 record entering Thursday’s match at home against South is an accurate representation of its up-and-down season.
“You have to be patient, that’s definitely the No. 1 thing,” Gruntzel said. “We have a lot of talent, that’s for sure, but we don’t have the experience of some of the top teams. It was a culture shock for a lot of girls, like ‘What am I getting into?’ ”
East actually impressed Gruntzel opening the season with victories over Goddard and Hutchinson, but then adversity struck with back-to-back losses to Northwest and Kapaun Mount Carmel by the combined score of 13-1.
That is when the leadership of East’s senior players, Susan Bass, Dayna Johnson, and Libby Hastings, were called upon to stop a slump forming. Since the losses, East rebounded to win its first two City League matches against North (5-1) and Southeast (7-0).
“We took our lumps and we learned from it,” Gruntzel said. “When you play against the best teams, they’re going to show all of your weaknesses. I think the seniors took the young ones aside and made sure they learned from it. So we got back in practice and fixed those things.”
Johnson in particular has been a force this season for the Blue Aces. It is a game-by-game decision for Gruntzel where to play her in the field, as he calls Johnson the best field player on East. She has played as a striker, in the midfield, and everywhere on the back line already this season.
Against City League opponents, Johnson has played out of the back and has pushed forward from her outside back role. Against Southeast, Johnson scored three goals and assisted on three more.
“Not every soccer player can do that,” Gruntzel said. “It’s nice that we have that and that we have the versatility from the players around her to be able to put them in different places and for it not to be a radical change. It’s going to depend on the match-up a lot of games.”
Maize bounces back — Since losing 3-0 to Northwest in the opening round of the Titan Classic, Maize hasn’t shown any signs of weakness.
Since the loss, Maize has steamrolled through Hutchinson, Derby, Andover Central, Olathe Northwest, and Andover by the combined score of 30-3.
Coach Jay Holmes made some tactical changes in the lineup and they appear to have unlocked Maize’s potential. A 4-0 thrashing of Olathe Northwest last Friday was particularly impressive.
“I hate to lose to anybody and the girls are the same way, but losing the way we did certainly gave us a lot of motivation moving forward,” Holmes said. “The girls know what’s at stake and every game is critical now.”
Maize will have an opportunity to redeem itself against Northwest, as the two sides meet again on May 1 in Maize.