Leopards back on the hunt in girls soccer
The captains stood, hands on their hips, surveying the crop of young girls who had made the cut and were officially in their first East High soccer practice.
So far, the seniors like what they see.
"I think some of these girls are really gonna step up," attacking midfielder Maddie Roemer says. "And they've got big shoes to fill."
Of course they have: The Leopards have won at least a share of their region title for the past five seasons. Just last year, they were achingly close to making it to Rio Tinto Stadium for the Class 4A final, but they fell to eventual champ Timpanogos, 1-0.
It still stings, Eliza Hard says, but the team's thoughts are now completely on the present and how much work it will take to get another region title.
"We just need to be positive, stay strong," Hard says.
Hard is following her own advice, feeling a void in the absence of her older sister, Hanna Hard. Her sibling was one of the components in one of the stingiest defenses in the state a unit also anchored by stars Megan Trabert and Audrey Gibb. East allowed only 19 goals last season.
Eliza Hard is the only true starter on the back line returning. But as a third-year varsity player, she's picked up plenty over the years from the stalwarts on defense she long admired and tried to emulate.
From Trabert, she's picked up physicality. From Gibb, she's become more comfortable with taking the ball upfield herself. But there are other, more crucial lessons as well for the next time East is in a big game.
"The most important thing you can learn is patience and composure," Hard says. "We're probably going to be in a few more high-scoring games this year, so we can't panic."
Schematically, defense will be more of a team effort for the Leopards. Roemer says the early part of practice had been working on getting back quickly to stop opposing drives. East has also lost its goalkeeper, Alex Noorda, who started the last two years, so at least in the preseason, the Leopards can't be as sure as they once were about their defense.
Coach Rudy Schenk is waiting for some underclassmen to prove they can be reliable.
"We've told them from the beginning that we have holes to fill," he says. "It's important for kids on JV to know you will have opportunities to play varsity. We have some good freshmen a few will definitely have a chance to play."
Whoever gets time in the back unit, the Leopards should have a tough time holding opponents to the 19 goals they allowed all last season.
Fortunately, the team has its top two attackers back: Peti Manu and Roemer, who combined for 22 goals last season.
The duo works well together. Manu is a short but powerful blazer, quick to the ball and quick to get a shot off. Roemer is a dominating physical presence there aren't too many header opportunities that she misses.
"I'm definitely not afraid of the ball," Roemer says. "If I need to use my head, I just do it."
East will push Roemer more on attack in combination with Manu, pressuring opponents' back lines while trying to keep the tension off their own.
The Leopards' quest for another region title will have to go through Bountiful, their toughest rival, with whom they split a series last year. Woods Cross is another rising threat, as is Highland, Schenk says.
But the seniors don't seem as worried this group could achieve some things, they agree.
"Sometimes remembering how close we were is tough," Hard says. "But we can get back."
Leopards look to get back to top of the heap
After a semifinal run last season, East graduated a number of top-level players.
Returning are leading goal scorers Peti Manu and Maddie Roemer.
Eliza Hard is the sole returning starter on the back line.