A new season means a new era of Mechanicsburg girls soccer.
That means finding a new identity.
The 2019 Wildcats are facing a few tough challenges after last season’s historic run, one that saw them go undefeated in the regular season (18-0, 10-0 Keystone) for the first time in program history. Mechanicsburg saw its first loss that season in the District 3 Class 3A title game — a 1-0 defeat against Manheim Central at Hersheypark Stadium.
Their next? A 1-0 loss to Villa Joseph Marie in the PIAA semifinals, a game in which the Wildcats almost pulled off one heck of an upset.
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But now, all of that is in the past. The Wildcats are pushing forward with a new team and a new set of goals.
“You try and celebrate your successes, and the program itself and what you can be as a soccer team,” head coach Jake June said Thursday after a 2-0 win over Lower Dauphin. “We want to celebrate last year, but we had a long talk about how this year is 2019 and it’s a different team, and that’s great. We want to find our own identity this year.”
That new identity naturally means breaking in players who are filling roles held by seniors last season. The graduating class for the team was large — Lanie Anderson, Megan Cochran, Lindsey Costello, Abbey Engle, Caroline Fea, Isabelle Martin, Amelia Rodgers, Meg Schrass and Abby Strong were all part of the class of 2019.
“We definitely have a little more of an infusion of youth in this year’s team,” June said. “Last year, those seniors that left were a big part of who we were, they were the glue, great leaders and great girls. But, they left behind how it should be done, the way they approached every day and worked hard in the classroom and on the soccer field.”
Navigating the road this season will be a bit tougher for the Wildcats, who June knows has a target on their backs.
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“Last year we worked extremely hard, but this year we don’t have as many solid players as we did last year, and we don’t have as deep of a bench as we did last year,” said Jenna Skurcenski, a senior defenseman. “So, our minutes are extended and we’re working for longer periods of time, and on [Thursday] you saw the work and the grit that we had to put in to get that win. We scored early, and then we just locked it down from there.”
This group will not have to worry about the added pressure of an unbeaten record. The ‘Cats lost two weeks ago to Palmyra 1-0. It means they can’t match one aspect of 2018’s success, but perhaps it will ease the burdens some of the less experienced players now shouldering bigger roles are feeling.
“It was definitely a bummer to lose that game, but it was a realization to us that we aren’t the same team that we were last year and we need to work the same, if not harder, to get to the same place that that team did,” Skurcenski said about the team’s first loss.
Matching 2018’s other success will be challenging, as well — getting back to the District 3 title game and not just returning to states, but making an equally long run.
But that’s more than a month away. Right now, Mechanicsburg is trying to prove it can overcome all of 2018’s losses by again performing like one of the Mid-Penn Keystone Division’s top programs. So far, they are doing just that, going 4-1 (2-1) while coming off a confidence-boosting win over previously undefeated Lower Dauphin.
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“We’re trying to go as far as we can, work as hard as we can and see how far we can get,” Skurcenski said.
“Obviously, you want to win every day. We attack each day as its own battle, and we want to be good in practice and work on things and get better,” June said. “We don’t want to look ahead of a game. You want to have goals and high expectations — and these girls have felt what it takes to make a big playoff run — but we want to get through this regular season feeling proud of what we’ve accomplished and where we are.
“Then we can kind of see where we go from there.”
Full steam ahead.