BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Its top player from a year ago has graduated, but Shenendehowa girls’ soccer head coach Holli Nirsberger does not expect that loss to slow her squad in 2016.
“People may view us as an underdog because we lost Meghan Cavanaugh [who is now playing at the University at Albany), they may view us as not having that [caliber] of player — but we do,” Nirsberger said. “We have a lot of talent and a lot of diversity.”
An injection of youthful talent a year ago into in the Plainsmen’s lineup should pay even bigger dividends this campaign, as Shenendehowa looks to avenge last season’s Section II Class AA championship game loss. In addition to the eight seniors on this year’s roster, the several talented underclassmen who played varsity soccer last season now bring ample experience with them into this season.
“Honestly, I was nervous about losing [Meghan Cavanaugh] and all those seniors I’ve been with for so long, but getting to know the [younger] girls this year, they’re all nice and have such great soccer skills,” Plainsmen senior Kendra Harbinger said.
“It’s definitely a transition year because we lost so many girls from last year and we have a lot of young girls, but it’s gone smoother than I expected,” Shenendehowa senior Jill Shippee said. “They’re young and they’re excited, but they’re so focused. Their mentality is everything you could ask for.”
Shenendehowa finished last season with a 14-3-2 record and had entered the postseason as its classification’s top seed. Its upset loss in the area title game came in a four-overtime affair, but Nirsberger said her team has not spent any time this preseason lamenting how its previous campaign ended.
“It’s a totally different dynamic every year, so we want to establish that part early on,” Nirsberger said.
Instead, ahead of its Sept. 1 opener against Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake at home, the Plainsmen have engaged in double sessions meant to test themselves mentally and physically.
“We’re working on everything, going from detail to detail,” Harbinger said.
Offensively, the team already knows a lot about itself. Many of last year’s underclassmen — such as Kelly Hamlin, Mia Longo and Ava Sullivan, now all juniors — posted strong offensive numbers a year ago and should help give the Plainsmen a balanced attack this season. Defensively, Shenendehowa still needs to figure out how its pieces mesh together.
“We only have one returning starter on defense [in senior Amanda Volk], so we need to play around with our midfield and see how they can support our defense,” said Shippee, the team’s keeper.
Shenendehowa’s toughest stretch of games comes at the end of the season, with consecutive matchups against Shaker, Niskayuna and Saratoga Springs. Before those games come along, though, Harbinger said the squad expects to make sure it is playing as a mature unit ready to take on its toughest obstacles.
“A huge thing is staying positive,” she said. “Last year, we had some negativity and that brought us down. This year, staying positive will help us win more games and stay connected as a team.”