Whittell girls have the vets, but do they have the fire? | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Whittell girls have the vets, but do they have the fire?

Whittell High girls soccer coach Mike Leeper says only one ingredient is missing for the Warriors to return to the Nevada 3A state semifinals: determination.

With eight returning starters joining two talented freshmen the Warriors should be serious contenders to win Division II and duplicate its 1998 state semifinal appearance.

“The worries I have about this team are competitive. The sky is the limit for this team if they want to go out and get it,” Leeper said.

Noteworthy returners include senior Courtney Benvenuto, 1998 Division II Defensive Player of the year, and three-time first-team all-division forward Corky Novotny.

“We all played together during the club season and everyone has improved, so it should be a pretty good season,” Benvenuto said. “We have five seniors on the team, and we want to make it a good one. We’re definitely going to get everyone pumped up.”

Also back to create havoc for opposing offenses are senior defender Amber Merkel and senior goalie Renee Cascino, an all-division player a year ago; junior midfielders Meredith Shaw, Mandy Ralls and Maggie Jones; and junior center/midfielder Caitlin Fagan.

Throw in frosh phenoms Heather O’Brien and Stacy Graham and Leeper has the cushiest job in northern Nevada, right? Not exactly.

“You never know. The three seniors we lost – Megan Glasson, Samantha Laurian and Sabrina Darrow – were integral parts of what we’ve done the past two years. Those are big holes to fill, but on the positive side, we return a lot of experienced players,” Leeper said.

Their devotion during preseason workouts has impressed last year’s Division II Coach of the Year. Leeper has required players to practice from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.

“They’re stretched out and ready to go at 6 a.m. I’m proud of them for their dedication,” Leeper said. “We’re excited about the upcoming season and ready for whatever it brings us. Hopefully the girls will compete and we should have a successful season.”

Benvenuto, for one, has no qualms with the early workouts.

“It’s (horrible) to get up at 5 in the morning, but it’s nice to go home at 9 and have the rest of the day to do what we want,” Benvenuto said.

Novotny, the team’s main scoring threat, will miss the opening tournament this weekend in Pahrump because of a ski camp commitment.

Whittell will play Pahrump at noon and White Pine at 2 p.m. Friday to earn seeding for the Friday evening and Saturday double-elimination tournament.

“We still have a few things to work out, but we’ll only get better. Our goal is to win the division and take it as far as we possibly can,” Benvenuto said.

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