MARION — Last season, a young-but-talented Linn-Mar girls’ soccer team got a taste of the state tournament.
An early exit and a ton of returners have created a group of hungry Lions ready for more in 2019.
“All the girls are very excited,” Linn-Mar Coach Marco de Leon said. “I have met with all of them in the offseason and they just all have been really looking forward to the season to start. Last year we had a good year. Definitely ended the way we didn’t really want it to end, and so I think a lot of them are really hungry. Just the fact that a big nucleus of our group is coming back. … We feel like we are, if not as good, but probably better giving everyone another year.”
Linn-Mar opens the season ranked No. 5 in Class 3A. The Lions have ever won a game at the girls’ soccer state tournament in six trips.
“That has really been our motivation this year,” junior midfielder Abigail Santana said. “All of us really want it.”
Both Santana and forward Piper Carey were first team all-state selections in Class 3A last season as sophomores. Their return — plus sophomore forward Hallie Peak (nine goals, two assists last season), two experienced midfielders, the entire defensive backline and all-MVC goalkeeper Anna Kimball — represents the culmination of a group that has learned and matured together through youth soccer and into high school.
“We’re a really young team and we’re talented,” said Santana, who contributed six goals and 11 assists last season. “Just having everybody come up like that and all of our strengths just come together as a team and we bond really well. … Our chemistry just helps.”
Santana is a reigning MVC Athlete of the Year and Creighton commit. In the offseason, she played club soccer with the prestigious FC Wisconsin Elite Clubs National League organization and also trained with the boys’ teams at the Cedar River Soccer Association in order to advance her competitiveness, physicality and speed of play. Late summers have often been spent training at local parks with Carey, who has been a teammate since both were seven years old.
“We have just been dynamic all of our life and gotten so used to each other,” said Carey, an Illinois State commit who scored a team-high 15 goals last season. “We just know where we’re going when we play.”
Santana is likely to shift positions this year in order to keep the opposition off balance. In that instance, her customary center midfielder spot would be filled by senior Hannah Garcia and junior Annabella Dietrich, a Wartburg commit.
“We’re very excited to start the season,” Dietrich said. “There have been a lot of offseason workouts going on and we are just really excited to get into playing and out on our field.”
De Leon is excited about the potential of a couple of freshmen outside midfielders — Katie Callahan and Lauren Spaete — and has the benefit of four returners on the backline — sophomore Emma Casebolt, Central commit Maddi Fisher and junior Hannah Suskind, a first team all-MVC selection last season. When the alignments shift to a four-back system, junior Ashlee Haumesser is summoned.
The last line of defense is Kimball, who recorded 107 saves last season.
“She is just such a great keeper, just a great presence for us back there,” de Leon said. “Everything kind of starts from the back and just for our players to know that she is back there just gives us a nice level of confidence.”
Linn-Mar opens the season on Thursday against Cedar Rapids Washington at Linn-Mar Stadium.
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