McNary looking for bounce-back season on the pitch

McNary forward Sydnee Alfano battles for position in a game from last season. Alfano was the leading scorer for McNary last year and one of the top returners in the MVC (File).

As she prepares for her second year at the helm of the McNary girls soccer program, head coach Lauren Brouse couldn’t contain her excitement when talking about the potential of the 2021 season.

“It feels really good to be out here. It actually feels like my first season because things are more normal and it’s the time of year that we usually play,” Brouse said. “I feel way more excited about this year than last year.”

With an influx of youth, the Celtics went through some growing pains during the shortened spring season, finishing with a 2-9-1 record and going winless in league play. But McNary head coach Lauren Brouse believes that the struggles from last season have made her squad more battle-tested. 

“Our returners went through some of those frustrating losses and experienced that heartbreak, but they know what they need to do to fix some of the things that happened last year,” Brouse said. “Some of the JV girls we called up got a ton of playing time on the field last year, we swung a lot of them up, so I just feel like we have a lot more under our belt and we are a little more prepared.”

The Celtics return a multitude of players from last season’s team, none more important than juniors Tessa Fisher and Sydnee Alfano — both are entering their third season on the varsity roster. 

Fisher was a first-team all-league midfielder last season with four goals and an assist and Alfano earned second-team honors as a forward after leading the Celtics in scoring with seven goals and one assist.

Brouse expects Fisher and Alfano to be team leaders for the Celtics this season, but has also encouraged them to be more aggressive in goal-scoring opportunities. 

“I expect them to take leadership roles. I want them to work together and have Tessa looking for Sydney on through balls. But I also want them to be a little more selfish up there. They do look to pass a lot, but I want them to take more opportunities to be aggressive,” Brouse said. “I think they are both a little more confident to go do that now with both being juniors. They know that eyes are on them and that teams know them, but I think they are ready for that challenge.”

Sophomore Maya Alston is another returning midfielder that is expected to play a key role in the Celtics success this season — Alston received an honorable mention nod for her play as a freshman last season.

“She is showing leadership already. She is not scared to tell upperclassmen if they are not in the right spot. I am really excited to have her back,” Brouse said.

The back line will be a big question mark for the Celtics this year. Along with losing multiple defenders to graduation, McNary gave up two or more goals in 10 of their 12 games last season. Senior Isabelle Gatchet and freshman Kaelynn King will hold the two main spots on the back line this season, and Brouse believes that both players are up to the challenge. 

“We are going to miss those seniors, don’t get me wrong, but I think we will be okay back there,” Brouse said.

Without a set goaltender in the back of the net last season, the Celtics cycled through a litany of keepers in the spring. While Brouse will probably mix it up at the goalkeeper position this year, sophomore Hannah Ferguson will receive the majority of the reps in the net.

“She is going to probably get more time in the net than anyone else, but there will probably be a little shuffling,” Brouse said.

With the experience they have and the improvement they have shown over the last six months, anything short of a playoff appearance will be a disappointment to this McNary team, according to Brouse — McNary’s last playoff appearance was in 2017. 

“This team has more technical talent and sees the field well. If we don’t make the playoffs, it won’t feel like a successful season. I think we have the depth this year with 18 players on varsity. A lot of these girls play club, so I feel like if we aren’t in the running for a playoff spot we will be upset with the season,” Brouse said.

McNary travels to Westview for their season opener on Thursday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.

Matt Rawlings: [email protected]