The players have been very busy over the last few weeks trying to impress head coach Barb Chura and assistant Rafael Rios.
Although Xavier is ranked No. 1 in azcentral’s Super 10 teams in the preseason, a three-peat will not be easy. The Gators have 17 new players with little experience, but have a few others returning after missing the last couple of years while playing club ball.
They will be missing senior forward Emily Chiao, who signed this week with Stanford, with a significant knee injury that will keep her out for about four months. That’s basically the whole season. She was expected to be an integral part of the team after sitting out the two previous years.
And senior Kyla Ferry, who was the Gatorade Player of the Year and azcentral’s Player of the Year, will be reduced to a team manager role due to her affiliation with a developmental academy tied to U.S. Soccer.
Arizona Interscholastic Association rules prohibit a player double-dipping with both. A few players (such has Chiao) have had that same issue in the past and some others who were here last year will be out for the season.
Ferry, a forward who has signed with Colorado, will be missed. She had 20 goals and 12 assists a year ago and has 46 goals for her career.
Xavier will have three seniors return to the program after sitting out early in their prep careers.
They are forward Caitlin Johnston, forward Sadie Wintergalen and midfield/forward Lindsay Hubbard, whose older sister, Abby, graduated after proving to be a key contributor. All three girls participated in club ball.
Karla Alvarado, a midfielder who earned state recognition last year, is back. Chura said she is good with ball control, helps keep it away from opponents and disrupts them when they do get the ball.
“She does a lot of the dirty work. She is always grinding. Has a great work ethic,’’ Chura said.
Another key player is defender Katie McGee. She missed most of last season after breaking a leg in the season opener, but returned in time to play in the 1-0 win over Gilbert Perry for the championship.
McGee likely will be in the same middle spot along the back line that was occupied by star defender Nicole Hook, who graduated. And Hook scored the only goal for Xavier in the title match against Perry.
The back line will have to step up on defense, and junior Kaitlyn Lauck and sophomore Rian Mercado are expected to help.
An extremely important piece of the puzzle that can’t be overlooked is what will happen with the goalies. Multi-year star Kinsey Ehmann graduated and now is at Pepperdine. She was a great athlete (also in track and field) who made too many key saves to count.
Due to fires in southern California, Ehmann has been back in the Valley and is helping Chura with the goalies until she returns to Pepperdine. Hopefully she will impart as much advice as she can.
At this point, the starting role will be decided after competition between sophomores Jaden Campbell and Katie Harris. Both are decent athletes, but their lack of game experience, particularly in pressure situations, will need to be closely evaluated.
“We hope the process (sharpening skills and improving the mindset) will come together for everyone over time,’’ Chura said. “We need to sell them on what we are trying to do. We are cautiously optimistic.’’
The top teams in 6A this season are expected to include Xavier, Perry, Chandler Hamilton, Gilbert Highland, Phoenix Desert Vista and Scottsdale Chaparral, which moves up to 6A after winning the last two titles in 5A.
Xavier will open the season on Nov. 27 at Tolleson High, and the Gators’ first home match at Petznick Field will be Nov. 30 against Desert Vista.
Xavier 2018-19 soccer roster
Jaden Campbell, So., GK
Katie Harris, So., GK
Ansley Burns, Fr., MF
Lindsay Hubbard, Sr., MF
Kendall Warner, So., F
Rian Mercado, So., D
Brynn Lebel, Jr., MF/F
*Emily Chiao, Sr., MF
Elizabeth Warren, Jr., FB
Tatum Molina, Sr., F
Caitlin Johnston, Sr., F
Megan Zacher, Jr., FB
Katie McGee, Sr., D
Kaitlyn Lauck, Jr., D
Keila Lopez Enriquez, Fr., MF
Sadie Wintergalen, Sr., F
Brooke Bream, So., F
Karla Alvarado, Sr., MF
Kaya Vega, Fr., D
Kelli Rasmussen, Sr., D
Olivia Castrichini, Fr., F
Taylor Garman, Jr., MF
Megan Onofrei, Jr., D
Jayme Brown, Fr., D