WARRENSBURG — Warrensburg-Latham/Maroa-Forsyth girls soccer players have been welcomed back for the 2018 season by a coach who will no longer accept youth as an excuse for mistakes.
The Cardinals will still be young — with just one senior returning from last year’s 7-9-2 team — but Emery saw enough at the end of last season to know what this team is capable of.
The girls soccer season opens Monday with the weeklong St. Teresa Tournament — WLMF will play St. Teresa in a major early season test while also battling temperatures in the mid-30s.
But no matter what happens against the Bulldogs — a strong favorite to repeat as regional champion — Emery likes his team’s chances of taking the next step.
“I’m very enthusiastic about this team,” Emery said. “I feel a little like we let them down last year.
“There were times early last year you’d see what the girls did on the field and think that maybe that’s just who we are and we’ll have to make the best of it. I don’t think our record portrayed the level we were playing at the end of the season.
“This year we’re not going to be accepting of the level of play below that. I told them the first day of practice that I would be pushing them to levels they’re uncomfortable with, so they should get used to being uncomfortable at practice.
“We’re stepping up our game and we’re hoping that means they step up their game and grow as players.”
Maddie Yocks is the team’s lone returning senior. Emery said Yocks isn’t a vocal player, but finds other ways to lead.
“She’s more of a leader by example, and it’s a great example,” Emery said.
Besides, WLMF has a vocal leader in junior center back Reilly Fitzpatrick.
“We were rotating captains for awhile last year, but around the middle of the year we kind of settled on Reilly and it stayed like that,” Emery said.
Emery said he hopes junior Megan Leighton can provide the same type of vocal leadership to the midfield.
“Just because someone isn’t a captain doesn’t mean they’re not a leader,” Emery said. “We have several who have the potential to be leaders.”
St. Teresa went 17-3 last season on its way to the program’s first regional title. The Bulldogs beat WLMF to win the title, and like the Cardinals, return the bulk of their contributors despite a new coach in Connor Smith.
“It’s kind of fitting we open with them after they ended our season last year,” Emery said. “The girls from the two teams know each other very well. St. Teresa has set the bar high with their play. They’ll be a great measuring stick to see if the girls have bought into the philosophy of raising the bar.
“You can’t put too much stock in a first game — neither team will be as prepared as they’d like to be. But I like coming out against a strong team. We have nothing to lose. If we come out, play strong and the ball bounces right and we get a win, it’s a nice springboard. If not, we look at the things we need to work on and know we have a whole season to correct them.”