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Girls' soccer preview--Liberty

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By Mike Forster

The Liberty girls' soccer team looks to remove itself from an unaccustomed spot. Last year, for the first time since the team's inception, it finished out of the top three spots in the Seminole, supplanted by Staunton River.

"It's a different district from just a few years ago," stated Minette Head Coach Jeff Steele. His team went 7-4-3 last year to garner fourth place.

That team graduated some key players, particularly on the defensive side of the game. However, first team All-District fullback Cat Padgett returns for her junior year. Padgett, an aggressive player with an excellent clearing technique, will roam the middle of the defensive line.

She will be flanked by senior Liz Hale, who split time between defense and midfield last year. Freshman Kara Harrison, who looks to have a great controlling touch, should be on the other side.

Behind the fullbacks will be keeper Lindsey Wilson, who played the position on JV last year. "We're really happy with her play," noted Steele. "She looks solid in goal."

Wilson's progress has enabled Danielle Shuey, who saw a lot of time at keeper last season, to move into the field. Shuey will be joined by fellow senior (and team captain) Rachel Asbury at center midfield, where Steele has them focused on touching up the offensive aspects of the game.

On the midfield wing, you'll likely find senior Molly Mansel, whose play earned her selection to the All-Seminole's second team last season. Because of her strong leg, Mansel should be on point for direct and corner kicks. She is also a team captain.

The other wing finds Meredith Morris, returning to start for a second season. Steele likes the junior's hustle.

Steele is also expecting big contributions at midfield from senior captain Sarah Hunt and sophomore Brigid Buchanan. "We're very deep at midfield," explained the coach. Jessica Shuey is another midfielder, but she has been dealing with some niggling injuries. Veronica Riner is another solid midfielder who has stepped up her game. Yet another middie is outside midfielder Meghan Murphy, up from JV.

The offense should feature high-flying Maggie Rawlins. The All-District first teamer led the Minettes in scoring last year.

With teams expected to mark Rawlins, some of the scoring burden may shift to Aspen Rautio, her slight, but tough line mate. It should be noted that Rautio was the team's second leading scorer last season so opponents will have to keep an eye on her, as well. Steele is especially pleased with the chemistry the two have developed.

The third spot on the line is up for grabs with Kaitlyn Thompson, Hannah Stewart and Morgan Atkins all vying for playing time.

Junior Kim Nowlin appears to be the Swiss Army knife on this team, able to fill in at any position. Steele values Nowlin's ability to bring energy into the game at the right spot. "I'd like to have a team of all Kims," he mused.

Overall, the team is very deep and Steel sees a role for each of the players. "At some time in the season, each will play a key role," he stated. "It's my role to get them the playing time so that when that time comes, they're ready."

Given the toughness of the Minettes' schedule and the team's objective of advancing in the Regionals (something not done before), there can be little doubt that those times await.