By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
With Rolla losing to graduation Ozark Conference Player of The Year Addy Brow and other players who accounted for 55 of the team’s 66 goals last season, the Lady Bulldogs have plenty of openings offensively.
Coach Mike Howard notes his backups from a year ago now have the chance to prove themselves.
“These kids see this is an opportunity,” Howard said. “Addy scored almost 100 goals for us during her career, so we will need someone to step up and be a goal scorer. We also lost out center mid-fielders, so we need somebody to be that playmaker. This is an opportunity for a lot of kids to step up and show what they’re capable of.”
Rolla had seven senior starters on last season’s 15-5-1 team. But the Lady Bulldogs have returnees with experience.
“We have eight kids back who played a lot over the course of the season,” he said. “They might not have started, but they played a lot. And we will need some kids who haven’t played varsity before to come in and step up to the next level.”
Rolla welcomes back goalkeeper Kelly Cates. She posted a dozen shutouts and a 1.05 goals against average last season. Ryleigh Grommett and Elsa Wise are back after netting three goals last season. Other returnees are Kate Mallery, Arianna Stanislawski and Carlee McCormick.
The Lady Bulldogs are defending Ozark Conference champions and also won the league title in 2015 and 2016.
Howard hopes his team can progress enough to contend for the OC championship again.
“When you lose a lot of people, expectations are low from people on the outside,” he said. “But these players have the chance to show what they can do. We have a lot of tradition here with our program and the girls understand that. They want to do well.
“The schedule is difficult and early on we might struggle. As the season goes along, we hope to get better. We will have to build on every practice and every game to get better.”
Rolla will return to Class 3 District 9, to be held at Union.
“We’re in a difficult district. Washington was in the Final Four last year and Union is always strong,” Howard said. “Last year, we lost only five games and didn’t even get to the District championship game. There are great coaches and great guys in the District and they are a lot fun to coach against us.”
Howard has more than 800 career wins coaching both Rolla’s boys and girls teams. He’s in his 23rd season coaching the Lady Bulldogs and is as enthusiastic as ever.
“I love coaching. It’s always fun for me,” Howard said. “This is a good group and this is going to be a fun season.”