Dribbling the soccer ball toward the Mitchell goal at home April 6, Warlassies’ junior Lindsey Slone switched the ball from her left foot to her right, leaving the defender off balance. Slone switched the ball back to her left and blasted a goal from the right side of the field. Owen went on to earn its second home victory of the season.
The win was only the fourth for the Warlassies this year. But it offered a glimpse into the potential of the junior-laden squad.
Owen opened the season by dropping four of its first five matches by a total of four goals. Any of those losses could have gone the other way if not for injuries that have plagued the team this year.
“This has been one of the craziest years since I’ve been the coach here,” said head coach David Fiest, in his eighth season at the helm. “I mean, we still don’t have the whole team together. And I’m not a person that’s big on excuses, but every single game we’re missing players. At one point this season we were down six players.”
Nevertheless the Warlassies have refused to give up.
“We have been competitive in almost every game we’ve played this season,” Fiest said.
The adversity the team has faced has been met head on by a group of close-knit juniors who have a long history together, according to team captain Abby Lehman.
“We’ve worked really well together as a team this year,” she said. “Our chemistry is really good, so working together to get better has kind of just come naturally for us.”
Her teammate, and fellow junior, Ashley Young attributes the team’s commitment to the lessons learned during her freshman year.
“Our freshman year we played on a great team with a lot of seniors,” Young said. “When that team graduated we lost basically all of our starters. Last year we were really focused on rebuilding, and from last year to this year I have seen so much improvement in us as a team.”
In fact, many of those early lessons learned by this year’s group of juniors have been crucial in the development of what Fiest classifies as an “impressive” group of freshmen.
“The group of seniors that was here our freshman year was really good at helping us, and they would stay after practice and work with us,” Young said. “But more importantly they showed us how to be good teammates and support each other, and we’re trying to pass that along.”
One of this year’s freshmen, C.J. Graham, is a transfer from Asheville Christian Academy, where she started on the Lions’ varsity team as an eighth-grader last season.
“I had never played with any of the girls on this team before this season,” Graham said. “But now that I have been on this team I really enjoy being here because it really feels like a family.”
That is the philosophy the entire program is built around, according to Fiest.
“It makes me proud to see this group work together the way that they have this year,” he said. “If we’re creating good citizens then we’re a successful program. And if we can produce students that represent us well in the community, then that’s success.”
It’s only a matter of time before that success translates to more wins for the Warlassies, according to Young.
“We have always been a second half team,” she said. “I really think that we will start to show that we’re putting it all together after the time we have spent on the field together.”
As injured players find themselves returning to the mix, Fiest anticipates the same thing as Young.
“I tell them all of the time that ‘hard work gets results,’” Fiest said. “And they have put in the work this year, so we should start seeing the results.”