The 2019 Leavenworth girls’ soccer team had a season of growth, according to head coach Greg Ruff.
“It was a fun, exciting and rewarding (year),” Ruff said. “I saw a lot of growth in players and our system. We did some new things to grow the community and I just enjoyed it.”
The Pioneers finished their first year under Ruff on May 13 with a 4-0 loss to Shawnee Mission South in the first round of regionals.
The Pioneers put together their best season as a soccer program with a 9-8 record.
Despite the season ending, it was a successful year for the Pioneers. Ruff said he believes this was the first time that the girls’ team has won nine games.
“I think the next best team in (school) history was an 8-8-1 team,” he said.
A big part of that success came from the senior class. Ruff said he believes the class won only one a game as freshmen, three as sophomores and six as juniors before the nine wins this year. Ruff said he could not have asked for a better senior class.
“These girls were the catalyst for this year’s historic season,” Ruff said. “And the basis for building on that. They will always be a part of this family we have at Leavenworth and our soccer team. I will miss them but I know I will see them in the summer getting touches for college. That is just who they are, and they are always looking to get better.”
One senior that Ruff mentioned was Alexis Cole, one of the captains of the team who recorded 21 goals and 11 assists.
“(Cole) is consistent from game to game,” Ruff said. “A good leader and one by example. We are going to miss her and it is going to be very hard to fill her shoes next year.”
When Ruff was asked to pick an MVP, he was torn between Cole and Kaylee Shaw. But he said it would have to go to Shaw.
“I think that would go to Kaylee Shaw,” he said. “(She’s) another captain and a junior. Without her creativity and ability on the ball, I firmly believe Cole does not get 21 goals. Those two together had more than 75-80% of our offensive production. Without Kaylee’s vision on the ball to create chances and supplement Alexis Cole’s abilities, I believe we would have brought our best season ever to under .500 and it would not have happened.”
For the most improved, Ruff gave the honor to Allie Lodge. Lodge plays midfield in club ball but Ruff moved her to an outside back on defense.
Ruff said she never complained and worked on getting better and helping the team.
His favorite memory this year came in the team’s 3-2 double-overtime win over Shawnee Heights on April 18, which was also the team’s best performance.
“It was a good night,” Ruff said. “The players learned a lot from positive thinking and never giving up. It paid off that evening. We saw a lot of belief in the system, the style and the attitudes were terrific. The game had everything. Good play, controversy, ups and downs, good officiating, bad officiating. Man, it was a killer evening, one I will not forget for a long time.”
Ruff has also coached club ball in the past and said the high school job is different with extra behind the scenes work.
“There is a lot of things to do and complete as a head coach in high school,” Ruff said. “As a club coach, my manager handled everything. Not so in high school. It is all on you and there was a lot to keep on top of to make sure things ran smoothly. I could not have done it in the first year without coach (Brenden) Olesen and his knowledge around the rules and processes.”
Looking ahead to next year, the coach hopes to build on the possession style of play.
“We got somewhat decent at (it),” he said. “Increase that over a game of 5-8% for the full season. I think we were in 58% all year.”
He also wants to add more tactical components to the game and improve the soccer IQ.
“If we get that, we will be a very dangerous team,” Ruff said.
Ruff expects Shaw and Lodge to be some of the key contributors in year two. He also expects Margaret Brewster to potentially pick up the slack left from Cole’s graduation.
He expects Hannah Hawley at keeper and Sadie Dipman at midfielder to continue to step up and lead the team as juniors.
He also expects Brooke Collins, Mia Kensinger and Clare Langfoss to step up after a big year as freshmen.
The team will also return Abby Martin, who missed the year due to injury.
He also expects the rest of the team to step up as well.
“We are changing the mindset of the program,” Ruff said. “And I expect all of them to be at summer training and winter preseason. Hint-hint girls, if you’re reading this. If we want to build on this year, that is key to the success and everyone has to be there.”
Ruff said he is trying to build a community and establish a mentality of winning, working and doing what is right for the team and community.
He expects this in coaching, parents, administration and players.
“These are also great life lessons for our young players to take into academics, college, work, life and more. We hope that others reading this will come out and support the boys’ squad in the fall and continue to grow the game in our Leavenworth and Lansing communities. I really appreciate all the fans this year that came out to support us. They are invaluable to the team’s success. When you look in the stands and see numbers, it really helps the team in their bid for success.”