Lady 'Dogs soccer team heads into season

The air was warm enough to break a sweat, but cold enough to make that sweat freeze to exposed skin. Snow remained around the sidelines of the Moffat County High School practice field, and where it had melted, the only thing keeping the ground from turning to mud was the winter-browned grass. Those hurdles didn't stop the Lady 'Dogs soccer team from hitting the field for practice.

"The biggest thing is we just need to get outside and stay outside. It's really hard to have a good practice in a gym," said Eric Johnson, head coach of the girls soccer team. "That will be the nice thing about tonight's scrimmage, it will allow us to go and work game speed against another team."

The team takes on Steamboat Springs at 4 p.m. today at the high school. This will be the first team the Lady Bulldogs will go up against this year, but the game won't count toward their regular season record.

Johnson said that the Steamboat Springs Sailors would be the team his girls would be gunning for in the Western Slope Conference (WSC). The Sailors have had the premier soccer program in the WSC for the past couple of years.

"I'm really not too worried about how we do in a scrimmage, I just want the girls to be loosened up for the tournament this weekend," Johnson said.

The team will compete in the first tournament of the season Friday at Colorado Springs' Coronado High School, when they face Class 5A Grand Junction Central.

The Lady Bulldogs have never faced Central before, but Johnson is aware the team has put out solid squads before and probably will this year.

"The biggest advantage that Central will have over us is probably their squad size, but other than that, I hope we can play well enough to make it to a game on Saturday," Johnson said.

How the Moffat County girls play Friday night will determine who they will face in the tournament on Saturday.

The MCHS soccer team is young, only two of the 22-member team are seniors. Most of the players have only one year of competitive soccer under their belt. The young team has one major goal which they will be working on all season start laying the groundwork for a good program.

Last year the team finished the season with one win. It may have seemed like an unlikely year to begin to lay the groundwork for a winning Moffat County program, but the number of goals last year exceeded those made in 1999. Fourteen shots were scored in the new millennium, while only one found the net the year before.

The strength of the team will most likely be in the two seniors on defense, Jen Havrilla and Stacy Ponikvar, who have the experience to lead the team, Johnson said.

"Our defense is our strength right now. Since we have the most experience there, I'm trying to build around them and fill in the gaps where it's needed," he said.

Havrilla and Ponikvar were both All-Conference players last year, and will be two of the returning eight starters. Johnson also expects to see big things from sophomore mid-fielder Jeni Bamford.

"We're kind of a young team, but we're not as inexperienced as we were last year," Bamford said.

The team is setting short-term goals instead of a season goal, feeling that working toward goals week to week, and game to game will turn out to be more productive than one unreachable season goal.

"If we stay focused and serious on the field this year, we should be able to do well as a team," Havrilla said.

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