Soccer schedule is loaded, but that’s just fine with Elkins
The Lansing High girls soccer team lost just five players off of last year's Northeast Kansas Soccer League championship team, so the Lions have their sights set on capturing another league title in 2006.
Whether that happens, as well as whether the Lions find a way to advance deep into the Class 5A playoffs, remains to be seen. They've held their own in the league every season, but the Lions always have been bounced early from the regional playoffs.
LHS coach Rob Elkins believed the solution to putting the Lions over the hump in the playoffs was a beefed up schedule, so that's exactly what he and LHS activities director Gary Mattingly did.
"If we every want to be competitive at state, we need to meet those kinds of teams before we start the regional playoffs," Elkins said. "You don't want to see one of those teams (for the first time) in the first round of regionals, and that has been our schedule for the first couple years of the program."
Elkins and Mattingly took the first step toward changing things last year when they added 2004 Class 5A state champion and 2005 runner-up Shawnee Heights and Class 6A foe Olathe Northwest to the schedule. Those foes are back again this year, along with new additions like Blue Valley from the powerhouse East Kansas League, Gardner-Edgerton and 2005 Class 5A state champion Blue Valley West.
"It's the kind of schedule we've been trying to get for a while," Elkins said.
A schedule that tough has the potential to put a few more blemishes on the Lions' record - they were 13-4 last year - but junior and returning starter Elizabeth Cristiano said that would be OK as long as it makes the Lions better.
"It's a really rough schedule," she said. "It's a big difference from last year, but I think it will make us better for league play and set us up well for when we play the bigger schools."
Lansing will have little time to prepare for its first big game. Spring break officially ends when classes resume Monday morning. Then LHS opens its season at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Mill Valley in a NEKSL contest. Two days later is the showdown with Blue Valley West.
"It's not scary," Elkins said of facing the defending state champs so soon. "Maybe it's better to do it sooner than later."
For his part, Elkins said he likes the squad he will put on the field for opening day. He said there still are some holes to fill, but he is confident about his players' capabilities. The team's three seniors - Katie McKee, Lindsay Parks and Heidi Meyer - will be expected to provide leadership for a team composed mostly of sophomores and juniors.
Among the talented players returning are first-team All-State and first-team All-NEKSL midfielder Bianca Manago and all-league first-teamers Katie Nietzke (goalkeeper) and Cristiano (defender). Second-team all-league selections returning are sophomore forward Rachel Pride and defender Abby Hauver. Sophomore midfielder Erin Griffen and junior defender Michaela Bristow also were honorable mention all-league last year.
Outside of Nietzke in goal, Elkins said all other field positions were up for grabs. In order to replace All-State forward Kendra Sickinger, he said he might have to move some players around. He said that would not be a problem, though.
"A lot of those girls are pretty talented and can play any position," he said. "They were where they were needed last year, and they may be needed somewhere else this year."