By Marty Gordon
Radford’s Darryl Gillespie is in his seventh season coaching the lady Bobcats where he has compiled an impressive 80-15-1 mark.
Five of those years, the team has reached the pinnacle in the state championship game and brought home the runner-up trophy. The longtime coach would like to change that this season, but a group of young players will have to grow up real fast.
Last season, the Bobcats finished 22-1-1 and only lost three key seniors. They do return freshman sensation Madison Page who scored 53 goals.
On defense, midfielder Mary Elliott anchors a line that should be tough to score on, but again it comes back to some young faces maturing.
“If the young players continue to develop, we could be in the running for the conference and region titles,” Gillespie said.
He does expect both James River and Auburn to be tough this season.
“They both gave us hard games last year, and both didn’t lose many players from that team,” Gillespie said.
Blacksburg is in a reloading period on the soccer field but you would never know it as they are already 6-0 on the early season.
Coach Travis Eschenmann is in his 10th year as a varsity coach at the school and has won 85 percent of his games. Last season, the team was 20-0-2 and has become a regular in the state championship game.
Eschenmann is 165-29-6 and lost 13 players from last year’s squad including nine seniors. That group included Chris Martin, who is now at Roanoke College.
“Martin was an amazing goalie that set records in three years in goal and had an outstanding defense in front of her including four year starter Eden-Elizabeth Phillips and Group 3A Player of the Year Sophia Thompson. Defensively we will miss those players but overall we will miss the leadership of this large senior class,” he said.
But we’re talking about Blacksburg here, where the cupboard is never bare. Eschenmann had figured with such a very young team this year, it would take some time to find their identity and learn how to compete at a high level.
“Hannah Elias returns as our only senior this season but will serve a critical role as our defensive captain. Offensively, we return Meghan Shelton who was second in goals scored in 2016. Ashlen Burch and Georgia Halkidis return in the midfield to help our young team maintain possession and build our attack,” he said.
Radford and Blacksburg squared off in a scrimmage last month with the Bruins prevailing 3-0.
Eschenmann believes Conference 32 will again be tough.
“Hidden Valley is returning many of their starters from the 2016 season that bring a potent attack. This group will be strong test for our young defense. Both teams have similar styles of play which will make this a fun and competitive matchup,” he said.
Over in Riner, there is plenty of optimism. Ashley Moreno is in her third year as a coach and is coming off an impressive 13-2-1 mark last year.
She will have to replace her top scorer but for most part she returns a solid group of girls.
“Forward Olivia Phillips is a key player that we lost this year. As a senior captain, she was one of our top scorers with 15 goals last year and a first team all-conference player. She had a strong presence on the field and as a leader,” she said.
The culture has changed at Auburn with more and more kids looking to soccer. Key returners for this year’s team includes the Eagles three captains.
“Center back, senior, and captain Alyssa Musselman returns this year and her team is confident in her ability to not let anyone by her. Junior Anna Dresser returns as a new captain and has been one of the leading scorers in the past two seasons. Alexis Gillie is also a junior captain this year. She has the ability to play calm and is key to control the midfield and make smart decisions,” Moreno said.
Musselman recently signed a letter of intent to continue her soccer career at Division II Freed-Hardemon University in Henderson, Tennessee.
Overall, Moreno is very excited about this year’s team. “We have a solid group of returners and each new member is a key player and brings talent which only makes our team stronger. We expect to have another winning season and are working hard to succeed in our post season games,” she said.
Radford has been Auburn’s Kryptonite for the past few years, but Moreno hopes to change that. “We usually come out strong leading in games against Radford and James River but usually fall short in the end. They are both strong sides and give us a good game of soccer, but our goal is to come out on top, whether it’s in regular or post season matches,” she said.