Optimism covers the Xavier soccer program like a blanket.
Coach Barb Chura and her players will begin their journey on Dec. 4 against Tempe Corona del Sol at the Tempe Sports Complex in south Tempe (next to the Cardinals’ training facility).
Chura is looking forward to that test, and says, “It will be a good group but, we have a lot of training to do. I like the team. We have a good mix of levels (ages) and talent.’’
The Gators had a recent three-way scrimmage with Scottsdale Chaparral and Gilbert Highland, and they did a solid job. They appeared to move the ball around well and had good anticipation in terms of where their teammates would be on the field.
XCP will have seven seniors, four juniors, six sophomores and six freshmen on the varsity roster. Chura said there are quite a few more freshmen who are expected to bolster the junior-varsity and freshman levels.
“The tryouts were fast and furious,’’ Chura said. “Trying to assess all that talent isn’t always easy. But it is encouraging to have a lot of new, talented players.’’
Xavier finished 14-6-2 last season and reached the Division I semifinals, where it fell to eventual champion Phoenix Pinnacle. Star Kellie Peay, now at Santa Clara, will be difficult to replace, but the Gators will do their best in terms of leadership and production on the field.
Senior defender Kendall Ward, who played outside backer as a junior alongside Peay in the middle much of last season, is moving over to take Peay’s spot.
Middle backer is not strange to Ward – she played the position for the Blackhawks club team in north Scottsdale. But she said she watched Peay closely last season and learned what to do on the field as well as playing a leadership role.
“She (Peay) played her best all the time and that’s what I’m going to try to do,’’ Ward said. “She was a strong player. I like it that I can help the team out by seeing just about everyone on the team and try to direct them where they need to be.’’
Senior midfielder Amanda Lane also should play an important role this season.
“We have a lot of hard workers on this team and some of the younger ones have already shown that they can handle what they need to do pretty well,’’ Lane said. “We think we have a good chance to bounce back, go to the (state) tournament and get pretty far.
“It’s important that the seniors set an example, let the younger ones know what to expect, to keep up the tradition and remind them of some of the little things like tucking in their shirts, and we want to show them about everything.’’
Ward added that the seniors were due to host some of the younger players for activities over the weekend to help with bonding.
Asked what kind of team she will have this season, Chura said, “We don’t know yet. It is way too early. We need some back-to-back training days.
“We’ve always been the type of team that is possession-oriented. We build momentum from the back (defenders) to the midfielders to the forwards, keeping the ball wide at times, utilizing the whole width of the field. So far, I think the girls have been grasping what we are trying to do.’’
Chura will rely on six or seven primary starters and rotate others in, but said, “That could change, depending on who we play and if there are any injuries.’’
She was pleased with the girls’ effort in the scrimmage.
“There were a lot of nerves, which can be expected, but they eventually settled in,’’ she said. “We still have a lot to do, a lot to figure out.’’
Ward also thought the scrimmage went well.
“We have a lot of potential and I think the team is going to grow,’’ she said. “I think we do a little bit of everything well. We have a lot of good players and our goalies (senior Sydnay Tucker and freshman Kinsey Ehmann) who are going to help us.’’
Asked about the main thing the Gators learned from last season’s state tournament, Ward said, “We thought we were going to be in the finals, but we weren’t. We learned not to take anything for granted. We have to continue to work as hard as we can.’’
Xavier Prep varsity soccer roster – 2014-15
Head coach – Barb Chura.
Assistant coach – Rafael Rios.
Trainer – Laurie White.
Managers – Sally Shipley, Kate Davey, Anna Rankine.
Players – Kinsey Ehmann (Fr. GK), Sydnay Tucker (Sr. GK), Nika Gorski (Fr. D), Abby Hubbard (Fr. F), Hannah Krumholz (Jr. F), Aida Zerabruk (Sr. F), Madie Amavilah (Soph. MF/D), Kaity Ward (Fr. D), Natalie Duque (Soph. MF), Tessa Zaccagnio (Sr. F), Maddie Khoilian (Sr. MF), Madeline Warren (Fr. D), Kelly Harris (Sr. MF), McKenna Soha (Jr. D), Amanda Koepke (Jr. D), Elena Zurek (Soph. D), Kendall Ward (Sr. D), Sarah Khoilian (Jr. MF), Quiqui Hita (Soph. F), Rebecca Ryan (Fr. MF/F), Katie Moore (Soph. D), Amanda Lane (Sr. MF), Olivia Chan (Soph. D).