By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Rolla Lady Bulldogs enter the 2019 season with a challenge in front of them.
Coming off a 15-9 season that included a second-place finish in the Ozark Conference with an 8-1 record, the Lady Bulldogs have a couple of big holes to fill.
Key losses to graduation include Ryleigh Grommet and Kelly Cates.
Grommet scored 11 goals and added three assists for Rolla, earning Class 3 All-Region 3 team honors, as well as being named to the All-State second team, the Class 3 All-District 9 team and the OC Co-Defensive Player of the Year. She is playing soccer at Webster University in St. Louis and was named St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year after leading the Gorloks to a 16-3-1 record this past fall.
“Ry did a little bit of everything for us last year,” Rolla head coach Mike Howard said. “But, the most important thing we will miss is the leadership she gave us.”
Cates, who played goalkeeper for Rolla, recorded 12 shutouts last season and was named the OC Keeper of the Year. She started every game at St. Louis Community College, which finished 9-7-1 this past season.
“Kelly will be very difficult to replace,” Howard said. “It’s hard to find a girls’ keeper with the ability and athleticism that she has.”
But the Lady Bulldogs, who lost 3-0 to Washington in the Class 3 District 9 semifinals, have a solid group returning this season.
• Elsa Wise is a senior forward, who scored 14 goals and had 9 assists last season. She earned All-OC first-team honors.
• Mercedez Carpenter is a sophomore forward, who netted 10 goals and 2 assists.
• Carlee McCormack, who will be a four-year starter, has been a defender and “will probably play a little bit of everything this year,” Howard said. She was named to the Class 3 All-Region 3, Class 3 All-District 9 and All-OC first teams last season.
• Eliana Stanislawski, a sophomore midfielder, has had a great winter, Howard said, and looks to be a key player for the Lady Bulldogs this Spring.
Also returning for Rolla this season are juniors Ellie Rodgers (center midfielder) and Kendall Mara (defender), both of whom earned All-OC second-team honors.
Howard also will be looking to key newcomer Abby Turner, a freshman forward.
“(Abby) has the potential to come in and make an immediate impact for us,” Howard said.
“Our biggest obstacle is, without a doubt, our keeper situation,” said Howard of filling Cates’ position. “We have some very good athletes in our program, and a junior in Kate Brand that has played JV for two seasons, so we should have some choices there.”
The Lady Bulldogs open their season by hosting the Rolla Tournament, which is a round-robin format and includes Springfield Catholic, Northwest and St Francis Borgia.
Howard has a career record of 407-137-25 coaching girls’ soccer at Rolla, and a combined girls’ and boys’ record of 858-357-70. His Lady Bulldogs, who lost to Washington and Union, respectively, in the last two Class 3 District 9 semifinals, last won a district title in 2016.
The Ozark Conference also should be competitive again with Rolla in the mix, having finished second last season and going undefeated in 2017.
“Our goal is to improve each and every day, and not get caught up in winning and losing but in doing things right,” Howard said. “We will show up and compete and hope to get better each and every day.”