By Andrew Kilstrom • Andrew Kilstrom • 

Mac returns experienced roster for girls soccer season

News-Register File PhotoCarlisle Topping, the 2011 News-Register All-Valley Girls Soccer Player of the Year, is back for her junior season with the McMinnville Grizzlies.

Despite some struggles last year, coach Adam Howard is optimistic about the coming season. With six returning seniors and eight returning juniors, there's reason for optimism. McMinnville lost only three players from last year's team and returns a good deal of varsity experience.

"We were really young last year and faced a tough schedule," Howard said. "But we're returning so many girls and a lot of talent. This is a good group of girls that genuinely enjoys playing together. It's been exciting to watch in practice."

McMinnville returns both goal keepers, junior Audrey McMillan and senior Brenda Yanez, six midfielders and all three forwards. Defender is the position Howard will need to fill before the team's opener against Roosevelt Sept. 5.

Graduated players Mikalee Gilbreth, Jasmine Flores and Gabriela Castellanos are all gone from last year's roster. Only junior Rebecca Noble, junior Hailey Sahagun and senior McKenzie Davis return from last year's varsity squad.

"We lost three very good girls and some experience at the defender position, but I think the girls we have this year will do just fine," Howard said. "We still have some varsity experience and the improvement I expect from the rest of the team should take some pressure off our defense as well."

Five of McMinnville's losses last season came by just one goal and they also tied twice. Despite finishing under .500, the Grizzlies remained competitive throughout the year and Howard said he liked the improvement his team made by the end of the year. He said he expects to build off of it in 2013.

"When you have a young team like we did last season it's easy to get discouraged when things aren't going exactly how you want them to," We got down at times, but overall I think our girls remained really positive and managed to get a lot better. That will serve us well this season."

McMinnville could also benefit from improved chemistry. While last season provided growing pains because of its youth, Howard said it should pay off this season.

The majority of the roster played together last year, and Howard said communication and team work has looked better from a year ago during fall practice.

"I can already see improvements in our communication and passing," he said. "So much of soccer is team work and knowing where everyone's going to be. These girls have played together for a while now and are getting a good sense of what people are trying to do and where they should be on the field."

The Grizzlies will also get a boost with the return of arguably their best player in junior Carlisle Topping. Topping earned first team All-Pacific Conference honors in her freshman season and has started the past two years.

Howard said she's improved this year and has taken more responsibility in the leadership department.

"She's going to be a real asset," he said. "She's really leading by example and doing the right things in practice. I think the other girls see her working hard and are doing the same thing."

The Grizzlies still have nearly two weeks of preparation before their first contest. Howard said he's liked what he's seen so far, but acknowledged there's work to do before the opener.

"I like where we're heading but we can get better," he said. "We need to keep grinding and I think we should be ready for the season."

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