That’s what first-year coach Kim Lauffer is preaching in regards to the Creston girls soccer team. Lauffer, in her fifth year with the program, was assistant for five-year coach Shawn Miller, who moved to the OA-BCIG (Ida Grove) school district this year.
Lauffer, an elite soccer club player in Montana who played on the charter soccer team at Faith Baptist College in Ankeny, said program building is more important than trying to make a “quick fix” this spring.
The Panthers return 10 letterwinners fro a team that went 1-16 last year with five one-goal defeats, and 0-6 in Hawkeye 10 play. Creston was the youngest of seven teams in the conference last year.
“I want the girls to be working toward winning more, of course,” Lauffer said. “But, having so many greenhorns, and veterans trying out new positions, it might take awhile to find the right combinations. My goal is to have winning seasons, but first we have to blend as a team.”
In building a successful program, Lauffer said skill development is vital. She’s glad to see more U14 activity in the community as a bridge between an active youth program and high school years.
“Teams around Des Moines and Omaha — even Winterset is close enough — they can play club soccer year-round,” Lauffer said. “We want our kids to build their skills, so we can hold our own with programs in club play year-round.”
Lauffer is assisted by Jerry Hartman, longtime official for soccer and other sports. Lauffer said they share many of the same soccer philosophies, and early workouts have been busy with teaching the sport to many newcomers.
“Shawn was a really good coach,” Lauffer said. “But every coach has a different approach to things.”
One of the first changes likely to be enacted by Lauffer when the Panthers take the field Monday at Missouri Valley is moving a key player from last year to a new position.
Sophomores Hanna Luther and Brenna Baker each earned Hawkeye 10 honorable mention as freshman defenders. Luther, the defensive sweeper last year in front of the goalkeeper, is likely to fill the center midfield void this year.
Last year’s center midfielder was senior Maddie Haines, who was second-team All-Hawkeye 10. She was fifth all-time in Creston girls soccer with five assists, and tied for seventh with six goals scored.
“Our talent kind of sat in the back last year to protect,” Lauffer said, “but if you can’t score, you’re never going to win. Luther is improving in her ball control, and she can help us in the middle.”
Moving Luther will allow Lauffer to try junior Itzayanna Rubio in the sweeper position. The rest of the defense returns with experience with quick junior Ryan Vazquez, Kim Alley, Emily Lane and Baker. Freshman Maddie Travis is learning the defensive position.
Goalkeeping should be solid with the return of junior Sadie Jones, who ranks second in career saves (166) with one shutout last year. Only four-year standout Kara Anderson has more career saves in a Creston uniform. Alley also plays goalie, but Lauffer plans to have her on the field a lot.
At midfield, Luther could be flanked by junior Michelle Powers, improving sophomore Savannah Hartman and either Baker or Vazquez, depending on the formation favored by Lauffer in a given match.
The Panthers return two senior forwards in McKenna Thatcher and Mackenzie Andreasen. Thatcher has six career goals, tying Haines for seventh all-time.
“McKenna is experienced and Mackenzie has a strong leg,” Lauffer said. “Savannah Hartman is another player we could move up top. You have to be able to get around a defender as a forward, and she has come a long way in foot skills and accuracy.”
Athletic freshmen Alicia Boyer and Selena Sampson could also play some forward, Lauffer said, as they learn the position better. Sophomore Jenna Hayes could add to the midfield depth, or perhaps even at forward.
“We’d love to have three up top sometimes, and that’s where I could see Savannah moving up,” Lauffer said. “We have a lot of younger players working hard to improve, which is great because that shows the veteran players they need to keep working, too, if they want to continue to receive those opportunities.”
Lauffer said it’s important that the team stay encouraged during any rough spots. A busy early schedule could be challenging for a new-look program, as Monday’s road match is followed by contests against Harlan Tuesday at home and at Nodaway Valley on Thursday. The varsity home match Tuesday is scheduled at 5 p.m., with JV at 6:30 p.m.
Nodaway Valley will be one of the tougher opponents this season, returning eight starters from a ranked 15-3 team that lost in the substate to Glenwood. Valley was the fourth-highest scoring team in the state last year among 96 schools.
Also on the Creston schedule is ADM, 16-3 and a state tourney loser to Cedar Rapids Xavier, with seven starters back; and Hawkeye 10 powers Glenwood and Lewis Central.
Glenwood (18-2) lost in the state semifinals to North Scott, and has four starters back from a three-time state qualifying team. Four-time conference scoring champion Michaela Moore graduated.
Lewis Central (11-7) lost in the substate to ADM. The Titans return five starters from a ranked team that has finished first or second every year in conference history. Brooke Jensen returns after two seasons of 25-plus goals.
The annual Creston Invitational is May 4, involving Boone, Centerville and Oakland Riverside along with the Panthers.
(* — Returning letterwinners)
Seniors — *McKenna Thatcher, *Emily Lange, *Mackenzie Andreasen.
Juniors — *Ryan Vasquez, *Michelle Powers, Marbrisa Lepe, *Sadie Jones, *Itzayanna Rubio, *Kim Alley, Miranda Davis, Sina Weiller.
Sophomores — Savannah Hartman, Jenna Hayes, *Hanna Luther, *Brenna Baker, Ashley Knipfer, Lillie Wyant, Taquana Williams.
Freshmen — Alicia Boyer, Selena Sampson, Maddie Travis, Catherine Daily, Corissa Kinkade, Crystal Zamora, Micah McCutchan, Leslie Lepe, Abbie Cook, Ashley Eblen.
April 1 — at Missouri Valley, 5 p.m.
April 2 — vs. Harlan, 5 p.m.
April 4 — at Nodaway Valley, 7 p.m.
April 9 — vs. Kuemper Catholic, 6:30 p.m.
April 11 — at Denison-Schleswig, 5 p.m.
April 16 — at Chariton, 6:30 p.m.
April 23 — vs. Lewis Central, 5 p.m.
April 26 — at ADM (Adel) Tournament, 5 p.m.
April 27 — at ADM Tournament
April 29 — vs. Chariton
May 4 — Creston Tournament (Boone, Centerville, Riverside), 9 a.m.
May 7 — vs. Atlantic, 6:30 p.m.
May 9 — at Glenwood, 6:30 p.m.
May 14 — at Winterset, 7 p.m.
May 21 — vs. Carlisle, 6:30 p.m.