SPRING CREEK — Despite nearly half the roster comprised of first-year varsity players, the Spring Creek girls soccer team has a strength — speed.
Although the Lady Spartans had a winning record in 2018, Spring Creek (8-6-2 in league play) missed the Division 3A North playoffs by one spot — finishing sixth in the “A” league with the top-five teams qualifying for the regional tournament.
“I think that was only the second time we have missed the postseason since I became the head coach,” said Spring Creek head coach Kami Crowe.
Indeed, through seven seasons Spring Creek has made the playoffs five times under Crowe — the only non-postseason years coming in 2013 (8-8 in the I-A North) and last year — the Lady Spartans hoping to find their winning ways once again this season.
“We’re OK. I think we have a lot of potential, but we have a lot of work to get there,” Crowe said. “I think our strength is definitely our athleticism. We have a lot of track speed.”
“We have a lot of juniors and seniors, actually, but seven girls on my team have never played varsity soccer before,” she said. “The biggest challenge will be trying to link the two groups (experienced and inexperienced) together. We need to bridge that gap and get everyone up to speed on footwork and fundamentals as soon as possible.”
One of Spring Creek’s potential game changers in 2019 will be now-junior Lydia Binger, who has already proven she has more gears in her transmission than most girls.
“Binger is so fast. She has the confidence now and her field management has really improved,” Crowe said. “I can play her as an outside mid (fielder), put her on defense or at forward.”
As a sophomore, Binger was second on the team with five goals.
Crowe expects similar roles for seniors Ashton Moon and Libby Murphy — another trackster — saying the two will often flex between center-mid and center defense.
“Ashton has improved her ball skills and decision making. She is a great leader and is doing a really good job of helping our younger girls,” Crowe said. “Libby will be out the first-two weeks of the season with early signs of a stress fracture on the outside of her ankle.”
In 2018, Moon scored four goals — Murphy adding two goals and a pair of assists.
Another four-goal scorer during her junior season was now-senior Kattalin Lopategui, who will likely find a position change in the upcoming year.
“I think she will play in the midfield, but she hasn’t played there either of the last-two years,” Crowe said. “She has good ball skills and will help us with distribution.”
From the left side last year, Lopategui was the Lady Spartans’ best passer — leading the roster with five assists — ranking second on the team with 13 points.
Defensively, Crowe has the advantage and services of two very-capable goal stoppers.
Both junior Betsy Fellows and sophomore Shyann Lamb return as the potential goalkeepers.
“It’s nice to have two good goalies. Either of them can do a good job for us there,” Crowe said. “Shyann is great in the field, too. I think we can switch them in and out of the goal.”
Last season, Fellows made 100 saves — allowing 31 goals — keeper stats not recorded for Lamb.
“Shyann is an athlete and she is aggressive. She attacks on offense and she takes charge when she plays goalie,” Crowe said.
In limited field action last season, Lamb scored four goals and dished an assist.
Aiding whichever keeper is in the frame will be juniors Hailee Dixon and Mollie Spillman.
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“Hailee is dealing with a breathing issue right now, but she will help out our defense a lot,” Crowe said. “Mollie will play alongside her, and I think they can be good in our back row.”
Dixon has played varsity ball since her freshman year, 2019 serving as her third year of playing in the back end for the Lady Spartans.
Crowe is intrigued by the crossover to soccer by sophomore rocket Payge Walz.
The 2018 state champion 100-meter hurdler has chosen not to run cross country in the fall, instead electing to boot the ball.
“She could turn into a huge asset for us. Her speed in incredible, but we have really to hammer the foot skills with her,” Crowe said. “She reminds me a lot of how Phoebe (Fagoaga) was for Michelle (Nicholls). I think we can put her at forward. I don’t want to play the long ball all the time, but it’s nice to know that we have the speed to do that when we want.”
Another speedster comes in the form of now-senior Angelica Cortez, who was the team manager.
She — along with Lopategui — was a member of the Lady Spartans’ 4x400-meter relay team that took third place at state.
Senior Shayna Lamb — the older sister of Shyann — has moved up from the junior varsity for her final year of high school.
A couple of youngsters showed they have what it takes to earn positions next to the upper classmen.
“I have two freshmen on varsity, Arena McDermott and Taylor Brunson,” Crowe said. “I’m sure they would prefer to play forward, but I may have to use them on defense too and might need them in the midfield.”
The Lady Spartans must have girls step into the daunting shoes left by graduated Kierra Watson, who was a 1st-Team All-League and 2nd-Team All-State defender in 2018.
Watson led the Lady Spartans’ defensive unit that allowed 48 goals in 21 games, Spring Creek giving up 38 goals in 18 league contests.
Despite only taking three shots for the season, Watson cashed one into the net, scoring her lone goal of the year in in a 6-0 shutout victory on Aug. 24, 2018, over Pershing County before league play began.
As a team, the Lady Spartans scored 38 goals for the year, finishing the season with a minus 10 goal differential.
Spring Creek will also be without 2nd-Team All-North midfielder Lindsey Morrill — who provided the bulk of the Lady Spartans’ offense last season — scoring a team-best 10 goals.
She did the majority of her damage in the first month of the year — booking seven of her 10 goals before October — including a four-goal haul on Sept. 22, 2018, leading a back-and-forth battle with North Valleys, in Spring Creek.
Her heroic performance gave the Lady Spartans a take-the-lead, lose-the-advantage, come-from-behind effort for a 5-5 tie.
She scored each of Spring Creek’s two goals in a 6-2 home loss to South Tahoe.
Morrill dished both of her two assists for the season in a 5-0 road win on Oct. 19, 2018, at Sparks.
Spring Creek will hit the hit the pitch at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 23 against Pahrump Valley during the South Tahoe Tournament, following with a kickoff versus Reed and finishing with a 1:30 p.m. Aug. 24 match against Sunrise Mountain.
The Lady Spartans’ league opener will take place on the road at 5 p.m. Aug. 30, in Truckee, California.