SPRINGFIELD – It hasn’t been an easy start to the season for the Thurston Colts girls soccer team. A tough non-league schedule was made more difficult as the Colts were trying to figure out how to replace six seniors from last year’s quarterfinal team — including four all-state athletes. Despite all of that, Thurston is 3-3-2 with one non-league game left, and all three losses were to top-10 teams.
“It’s a different team this year. I mean, we lost six seniors, so the challenge with the coaching aspect is how can we get these girls to be the best that they can be? Just like every year, but with this team we’re still moving around our starters, we’re still figuring out who’s best in what positions,” Thurston coach Benton Canaga said. “Overall, I’m happy, we had a really loaded preseason. … We’re definitely getting really good glimpses of nice setups for when league rolls around. But whatever the girls are ready to do when the game starts is up to them.”
Those glimpses were present in Thurston’s 2-1 loss against No. 9 Crescent Valley last Saturday. After going down 2-0 in the first 30 minutes, the Colts answered back with a goal and had multiple good chances to tie the game in the second half.
“Overall, I’m actually really pleased, especially given how we started. We had a rough first 10 minutes and then all of a sudden the girls kind of started jibing and working together and picked it back up,” Canaga said. “That second half, we completely dominated. I think they maybe had two shots, and we had a lot of opportunities. We just couldn’t get them to fall. And then we just had some moments of breakdown and couldn’t capitalize on it, so that’s frustrating.”
An inability to capitalize sometimes is expected. After all, it’s not easy to replace such a stellar group of seniors. Especially when those six seniors from last year were impactful in all phases of the game.
“We kind of lost in all the areas, you know, forward, midfield, defense, and goalie. So kind of a smattering throughout the field. But we’ve had some girls step up, we have some really strong freshmen this year, which has been exciting to watch them learn and grow,” Canaga said. “And then just the team chemistry, we’re just trying to keep learning and working as a team. And the girls are really excited and they want to keep moving forward with more team bonding…. They’re having a lot of fun, which is nice, even though we have some losses this season.”
Two of the players who have stepped up this season are junior captains Macy Taylor and Gabriella Montes. Taylor, a forward, leads the team with 6 goals on the season. Canaga said her speed and finishing ability are “irreplaceable.”
“We need her and she works hard. She gives it her all and it’s very obvious. She’s one of our team captains as well, and we just need to get her to be set up with a good position,” Canaga said. “She’s very valuable; we need her and she puts in a lot for us.”
As for Montes, the junior midfielder actually plays goalie for the team during the club season, but her intelligence and calmness with the ball led the coaches to start playing her in the midfield.
“She’s very valuable in the middle. She’s very composed, very calm. She has a really high soccer IQ, so she knows what she’s doing,” Canaga said, noting that her response to a missed penalty kick against Crescent Valley tells him all he needs to know. “She’s somebody that lights her fire and she gets going. And you could see how much her game improved after that miss for us the rest of the game, so that was pretty awesome.
“I mean, we’re not upset, mistakes happen. Of course, you would love to see that game be a 2-2 game, but we’re not disappointed by it. And when I picked her to take it, I was confident that she would do a good job. And she missed but then she turned it around and had a really good second half, so I’m pleased with it.”
The team has a break this week to get healthy as four athletes have been dealing with illnesses recently. When the Colts return to play they’ll have one final non-league game before Midwestern League play begins. Despite some tough losses so far, Canaga is still feeling good about the team’s situation.
“Our goal for league would be to finish top two, and then we have a good standing going into the playoffs. And I don’t know, I haven’t looked into how others in our league are doing, I’ve just been focusing on our non-league stuff,” Canaga said. “But even if we’re not top-two, if the girls get good effort, and they’re having fun, that’s what we really care about, because we want to learn and grow. … I’m just excited to see what the girls do and how we come out and get after it.”