Sat, Aug. 17

Lady Marauders building for future

Staff photo by Eric Lusk

SENIOR Lindsay Raber will likely help anchor the defense this winter.

“I feel like next year we’re going to be a great team,” she said. “With the club talent that’s coming in next year and the years after that, we should be one of the powerhouses in the region.”

This year, however, has a few more question marks.

The Marauders do return a respectable number of players from the team that took the field in 2002-03. Eight members were on varsity a year ago, and five others got called up from junior varsity late in the season.

But the squad lost its nucleus, recent graduates like Salem Kamps, Brenna Winslow, Megan Stribling, Gail Stearley and Sarah Heath – all of whom were tabbed all-region.

“They weren’t necessarily stud soccer players, but they were athletes, and we miss that athleticism and muscle,” coach Lusk said. “This year, we’re kind of lean.”

Plus, the injury and sickness bug has hit the team pretty hard since practice began in early November, and that’s slowed some of this year’s preparations. Yet more players are still working to get game-eligible in the grades department.

Lusk has already had to call up JV players to fill holes for a scrimmage and will likely take some of the JV group with the team to this weekend’s Kingman Invitational.

“There has probably been eight girls who have been on the injured list at some point this season,” Lusk said Monday, the day before the Marauders even played their first game.

“It’s hard when you only have 13 to pull from and you don’t know which 13 you’re going to have for any game or any practice. But I’m excited about our season once we get our team together. We’re not a team until we get everybody playing.”

The Marauders boast five seniors, four of whom have varsity experience – Blaze Scott, Emma Canning, Sarah Dixon and Gwen Romig. Lindsay Raber moves up from JV and should be in solid shape after a strong fall swim season. Scott returns to the team after sitting out last year due to injury.

Returning juniors include Melanie Cutbirth, Anna Hammerle and Pam Smith. Fellow 11th-graders Ashley Christy and Jazzette Villanueva didn’t play a year ago but have experience in the program. Junior Megan Okamoto moves up from JV.

The sophomore class could become the nucleus of future teams. Aileen Blair moved up from JV during region play last year, and earned honorable mention all-region as a freshman. She scored four goals in three league games, including a hat trick in one game.

“Aileen is going to be a scorer,” Lusk said.

Jamie Dingemans and Sharon Langford spent all of last season on varsity as freshmen. Megan Brewer, Ashley Brower, Bradi Rhodes and Robin Wilcox got called up along with Blair for region games. Freshman Jamie Rodriguez rounds out this year’s roster.

Lusk said on Monday she hadn’t settled on starters for very many positions yet. A lot of that has been due to player availability issues, but she also wanted to mix things up after the Nov. 20 scrimmage at North Canyon. The Marauders gave up five goals in the second half to the 5A Rattlers.

If injuries heal up and players take care of eligibility issues, Mingus could be a force in the Grand Canyon Region without waiting until future seasons, the coach said. Her goal is to improve upon last year’s three-win campaign and finish with a winning record, something the program hasn’t had since 2000-01.

Earning the program’s first-ever state playoff berth would be icing. Three teams from the Grand Canyon will advance. Mingus finished third in the region last year, but only two teams went to state.

“My goal now is to get the girls eligible, healthy and playing in games,” Lusk said. “Once we do that, we can focus on playing up to our potential. And our potential is a winning season.”

The Marauders will get three games in this weekend’s Kingman tournament. Mingus will open against Lake Havasu on Friday afternoon, and then opponents will be determined by first-round results. The tournament concludes Saturday afternoon.

After a home game against Notre Dame Prep on Dec. 9, the Marauders will have a week to prepare for the tough Greenway Invitational on Dec. 17-23. Mingus will play pool games against the host school, Thunderbird and Centennial, then will get at least one more contest depending on how they place in their pool.

Flagstaff and Sinagua have been tabbed as the teams to beat in the Grand Canyon by most. Payson joins the league after several playoff seasons in 3A, including a final four finish in fall 2002.

Joe Rongo comes aboard to coach the JV Marauders. His roster features more than 20 players – another sign the program is headed in the right direction.

“Next year, we are making it to the state playoffs,” coach Lusk said. “Maybe we’ll make it this year, but next year, we definitely should.”