Dawn patrol: Warriors enjoy early rise for practice | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Dawn patrol: Warriors enjoy early rise for practice

Last season: state semifinals

Coach: Mike Leeper, fourth year

Returning starters: Seven

Key to Season: Can the Warriors discover a player to take over for high-scoring Corky Novotny, who has graduated.

Coach’s quote: “Team unity is better than it has been in years.”

Opener: Friday, Aug. 25, 1 p.m. at Quincy Tournament

Two weeks ago, Whittell HIgh coach Mike Leeper found out how much soccer meant to girls in the school.

Despite conducting daily practices from 6 to 9 – in the morning – the school has responded with the largest turnout in Leeper’s four-year coaching stint. Coupled with the return of seven starters, the Warriors look like one of the frontrunners to win the Nevada 2A state championship.

“The first couple of days some of the girls were having a hard time waking up that early, but I think everyone has gotten into it. We’re done by 9 a.m. and you can do whatever you want with your day,” said senior Meredith Shaw, a four-year varsity player.

The turnout is so high that Leeper can field both varsity and junior varsity teams. That enthusiasm for the sport should help the Warriors replace four of the top players in the sport’s five-year history at the school.

“We have some big holes to fill,” Leeper said. “Any time you lose personnel that are all-league players like Corky Novotny, Renee Cascino, Amber Merkel and Courtney Benevuto, tthose are big shoes to fill and we’re definitely going to miss those players. I’m not expecting much out of the gate.”

However, Leeper does have the luxury of seven returning starters, including senior center midfielder Caitlin Fagan, senior outside midfielder Shaw, sophomore stopper Heather O’Brien, sophomore forward Jackie Laurian, senior outside midfielder Maggie Jones, senior forward Mandy Ralls and senior sweeper Alisha Roth.

“All of us are really good friends. I think we have unity that we haven’t had in a while,” Shaw said. “We have a lot of freshmen and a lot of seniors. All of the freshmen get along and all of the seniors want to get along. We’re all there to play soccer and we’re hoping the team unity will take us a long way this year.”

Leeper has no doubt the senior leadership will help lead the Warriors to the promised land by season’s end.

“I’m looking for Ralls, Fagan, Roth and Shaw to lead the way early. They have great attitudes and they have been very good with the younger players,” Leeper said. “It makes all the difference because the team unity is better than it’s been in several years.”

Even though the Warriors will play a 2A schedule this fall, Leeper has scheduled a number of 3A and 4A schools, including Truckee, Douglas and South Tahoe. Hence, Leeper hopes the tough schedule will bring the younger players along faster.

“It’s a matter of how the younger players gell into the system and how long it takes them to get the concept of playing at the varsity level,” Leeper said. “I think we have the potential. Later in the year I think we’ll be real competitive, definitely in tghe 2A and the 3A as well.

“Soccer is in great shape at Whittell. We’re going to be pretty solid over the next few years, and that’s a tribute to the area’s strong youth programs and playing soccer year-round.”

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