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Veteran-loaded Warriors to contend for state title

Michael Traum

When a team returns all but one of its starters, it can expect good things. Whittell High’s girls soccer team expects good things.

Ten of 11 starting Warriors from last year’s state semifinalist squad are back to see just how far they can go in 1998-99, according to second-year coach Mike Leeper.

“The transition into this year will be much easier. We’re still a little inexperienced, mainly junior dominated. But we’ve got a good core of returning starters,” Leeper said.

Whittell, in just its third year of existence, ended last year with a 4-1 loss to Truckee. The Warriors had a 1-0 lead at the half. The team has been to the state playoffs two straight years – a mark Leeper said his team is capable of bettering.

“A lot of them have improved. They’re definitely worth the endeavor of taking that on,” he said.

Whittell’s returning starters include a group of all-state performers. Junior Courtney Benvenuto tops the girls list, having received a first-team selection. Senior Sabrina Darrow and junior Corky Novotny were named second-team, while senior Megan Glasson, junior Renee Cascino and sophomore Caitlin Fagan were given honorable mention. Senior Sammy Laurian, junior Amber Merkel and sophomores Mandy Ralls, Meredith Shaw and Alisha Roth round out the experience.

The Warriors have put in rigorous preseason training, including long runs and water workouts in Lake Tahoe. Once the chemistry comes together, Glasson, the team’s captain, expects to solidly compete for state title contention.

“They’ve all gotten bigger, stronger and more competitive. We have girls that are ready and strong enough to play against the top schools. We’re expecting to do extremely well in league, if not in state,” she said. “We’ve been working a lot on finishing drills and we’ve got an awesome offense. Just putting it together is going to make us one of the top scorers in the league. We’ve done a lot of rearranging on defense and we’re solid there. Our midfield is doing great, our wings are looking awesome. We’re ready to play. We just need practice and teamwork.”

Leeper is very aware of the expectations that come with a returning core of experience. And apparently so is the team. In the recent Quincy Tournament, Whittell beat Incline and tied Truckee. The coach is charged with the task of trying to make the whole thing come together this time around.

“There will be more pressure on them, but they’re more skilled and more used to each other on the field. If we can gather up a little heart and some determination, we can maybe get somewhere,” he said. “But we’re a long way from what will make us a better team in the fall. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Whittell travels to North Tahoe today for a nonleague contest. Game time is 3 p.m.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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