Initial offering has coach bullish on young Cats
Darren Erpelding always has high expectations for himself and teams he coaches.
So when he was handed the reins of De Soto's girls soccer team in its inaugural season, the first-year head coach set team goals of 10 wins and a regional championship.
The Wildcats fell short of those standards when they posted an 8-6-2 record and lost in the first round of the 5A-1A regionals to an underrated Blue Valley team. That doesn't mean, however, that the program's first season lacked a high level of play.
"They exceeded my expectations," Erpelding said. "For a first-year program, these girls did an excellent job, they never quit. I loved watching them come together and develop as a team."
The Wildcats opened the season by knocking off Topeka's Cair Paravel 3-0. Then they slid to 2-3 with losses to Piper (3-0) and Immaculata (2-1 in overtime), a 10-0 win over Kansas City-Washington and a 3-0 loss to Lansing.
De Soto climbed above .500 for good when it went on an eight-game unbeaten streak that improved its record to 8-3-2.
The run, which led the Kansas Soccer Coach's Association to rank the Wildcats for a portion of the season, included wins over Basehor-Linwood (2-1), Lawrence Bishop Seabury (6-0), Maranatha (3-0), Kansas City-Harmon (8-0), Ottawa (1-0) and Basehor-Linwood again (5-2).
A pair of 2-2 draws with Kansas City-Christian and Piper were the only blemishes De Soto suffered during that stretch.
The Wildcats concluded their debut season with shut-out losses to Mill Valley (1-0), Lansing (4-0) and Blue Valley (2-0).
"I don't like losing," Erpelding said. "I hate it. I don't ever want these girls to get used to losing. I want them to learn how to react to it. But I don't want them to get used to it."
Erpelding said his team didn't quit no matter the score. He had to admit, however, that they weren't always on top of their game.
"At some point in each game we seemed to have about a 10-minute stretch in which we acted like we didn't know how to play," he said. "We got away from doing what we wanted to do. But the girls brought it everyday, whether it was at practice or during a game. They wanted to learn."
With a season of coaching under his belt, Erpelding said he hoped to learn from his mistakes.
"I think the Mill Valley game may have taken the wind out of their sails," he said. "That's my fault. I built that game up too much. Next season I will try to downplay it more."
Nicole Radcliffe led the Wildcats with 59 shots on goal and 17 goals scored. She was also the team leader with 37 points after adding three assists to her resume.
The freshman scored goals in 10 of the 16 games De Soto played. She had four multiple-goal games, two hat tricks and scored in eight straight games during the season.
Jennifer Hill and Roxanne Grizzle each scored six goals. Hill was credited with five assists, while Grizzle dished out four. Julie Bray, Jordan Holden and Katie Beck added three goals each and combined for seven assists.
Scoring one goal each were Maggie Saylors, Jessica Blankenship, Hannah Konetzni, Carrie Buser and Megen Bedford. Andrea Young and Ember Watson were credited with an assist each.
Watson also had three saves in goal and gave up a goal in limited minutes. Bedford had 112 saves and allowed just 22 goals in 16 games. The duo combined for five shutouts. The Wildcats outscored their opposition by a 43-23 margin.
Erpelding said Saylors, the only senior on the roster, would be hard to replace next season. But he was excited about the players he has returning. He listed six freshmen and sophomores on his playoff roster who contributed to the team by either starting or playing on a regular basis.
"They are a great bunch of girls," he said. "We're going to build a great program here. These girls want to be successful and they want to be a part of something like that. Soccer is becoming huge around De Soto, and fast."