The Leavenworth Pioneers girls’ soccer team defeated Tonganoxie Tuesday night 4-2 to add another win early on in the season.
The Pioneers got on the board first after team captain Alexis Cole assisted Hannah Hawley to give the Pioneers a 1-0 lead in the 25th minute. Cole would assist Kaylee Shaw with 4:35 remaining in the first half to go up 2-0. Head coach Greg Ruff said the team possessed the ball well in the first half.
Leavenworth extended the lead 12 minutes and 40 seconds into the second half when Shaw assisted a goal for Cole. Tonganoxie added two quick goals in about four minutes to make the score 3-2. After a Chieftain handball on a shot by Maja Lager, Kaylee Shaw buried a kick with 14 minutes remaining to give the Pioneers a 4-2 before the Pioneers held on to win.
The Pioneers continued play Wednesday night at home against Seaman.
Leavenworth improved to 2-1 on the season after spring break and cold weather in the preseason made it challenging to prepare as a unit. Despite the extra challenges, Ruff said practices were upbeat and productive before the first game with players excited and engaged.
“We had a good preseason program to prepare,” Ruff said.
The coach said this year’s team is talented with an outstanding core.
“These girls will go as far as they want to,” Ruff said. “If they start to gel, listen, learn and then execute what is being asked of them, the sky is the limit.”
This year’s Pioneers team has 10 returning varsity players and the team six seniors this year. This year’s seniors are Cole, Lager, Sydney Howell, Maddie Stoffle, Liz LaDuran and Hannah Miller.
Ruff said Cole will be looked at to lead and produce scoring chances for the team as the captain. Shaw is the other team captain and Ruff said she will be a force up front. Other players Ruff said will be key will be Alexis Roan and Lager in the midfield. Lager is an exchange student from Sweeden and she will be looked to for setting a tempo of ball possession. Sophomore Adriana Carnoali will be looked to her lead the defense with center back Stoffle. Ruff also expects sophomore transfer Sadie Dipman to control the midfield and become a leader of the program.
He said the freshmen class is small but talented. He expects Clare Langfoss, Mia Kensinger and Brooke Collins to become key players quickly and transition to the high school game quickly.
At goalie, the Pioneers have LaDuran and Hawley returning.
“They will battle all season for the starting position and both get considerable time at goal,” Ruff said.
The coach said some goals for this season include playing better across the pitch and having confidence in each other.
“Personally as a coach, I want to see the team play better football across the pitch,” Ruff said. “Possess the ball more, move it around and look for the right opportunities to attack and press the situation. Too many times teams play way too direct and that will wear you out over 80 minutes and especially over a season. I want them to be confident in each other, in their ball control and this style of play. Everything is about building to the regionals and trying to produce there. We want to do well in the new (United Kansas Conference). Moreover, hopefully, win a regional game, which I believe has never been done in the program.”
The new UKC is strong across the board according to Ruff with no weak teams. He said it will be a grind to play each team twice but he expects it to position the team better for the postseason.
Along with the new conference, Leavenworth is also moved up to 6A. Ruff said that will not change too much. The team will still play their games and practice the game. He just increasing their soccer IQ will be key.
“We have to tighten up our abilities on the ball,” Ruff said. “And increase our soccer IQ (understanding of the game and game situations) and decision making. A vast majority of the 6A schools have talent in every position. Their soccer IQ is exceptional and they will exploit your weakness. We have to get to a point where the player can read the game and make those decisions better and faster and without a coach telling you to do it.”
When asked what game he is looking forward to the most, Ruff said the games against Lansing.
“This might be the best thing these schools have done for all the sports in our community,” Ruff said. “These kids grow up playing together on local clubs and teams and they love and enjoy getting to play against their mates in a match. It is also especially great for our soccer community. We try to get as many people out as we can to support both sides and build interest in our programs. Local youth on the Leavenworth United Soccer Club usually attend and get to dream of the day they get to play under the lights. It is a fabulous game and this year we get to play it twice. How awesome is that?”
Leavenworth and Lansing first meet on the pitch on Friday, April 5 at Pioneer Stadium. The two will meet again on Tuesday, April 23 at Lansing.
“I am excited to be their coach and looking forward to the season,” Ruff said. “Let's see what they do.”