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Tigers as talented as ever

DEVON O'NEIL
summit daily news
Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk
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FARMER’S KORNER ” Stephanie Johnson goes to practice every day in awe.

It’s not because the Summit High School girls soccer head coaching job is Johnson’s first at the high school level. No, her awe can be traced to what she sees on the floor of the Farmer’s Korner gym each afternoon.

“I just can’t get over how these girls are such incredible athletes,” she said, and one look at the subjects of her observation tells you she’s not an exaggerator.

The teenage girls keep the ball in the air at will during a drill, using all parts of their bodies and rarely losing their balance. They jog and juke and sprint and bound across the hardwood.

In that respect, half of Johnson’s job ” finding quality athletes to put on the field ” is already done. She knows what the other half is about.

“It’s just getting them to focus on soccer.”

This is where the coach will earn her paycheck this season. Part of the reason the Tigers are so naturally athletic, so naturally talented, is because they play multiple sports. Three (Kirsten Cooper, Katie Hartman and Sarah Ruckriegle) are skiers competing on an international level. Two more (Jackie Koetteritz and Hannah Harvey) are promising young hockey players who play for a club team in Denver.

All five will miss multiple matches this season, making it a tall task for Johnson to keep her team on pace to reach her goal of an above-.500 season. For the same reason she goes to practice in awe, however, Johnson doesn’t feel the staggered absences will hurt the team’s record.

“I don’t think it will cost us anything because we have a really deep team,” said the first-year head coach, who has designed a program to help keep things fair between those who miss practices and matches, and those who don’t. For every practice or match missed, the player must sit out the first half of the following match. To avoid having to miss match time in the wake of an absence, players can attend an “intense running workout” with Johnson or write a two-page paper on life skills they’ve learned while playing soccer.

“My goal is to teach them more than just soccer here,” said Johnson, who took over for Dirk Parmley when Parmley resigned for personal reasons.

On the field, Summit will be led by an imposing lineup of forwards, each of whom can score at any time. Cooper, a senior, and the sophomore Harvey both tallied hat tricks in at least one match last season. The duo had never played together before then, but you wouldn’t know it. Cooper’s stealth ball handling complements Harvey’s jitterbug quickness in a way that spells “uh oh” for opposing teams.

“She’s really just gung-ho toward the goal and I kinda keep back a little bit and help her out to get there, so it’s really a good pair up top,” Cooper said.

Ruckriegle should also chip in plenty of goals up front, along with senior Emma Koenig.

Courtney Wade, a reliable senior and team leader, will patrol the midfield for the Tigers, though Johnson said the ranks between Wade and the net will prove key to Summit’s ability to win matches.

The Tigers lost a pair of fullbacks, all-league stalwart Shelley Mauch and Tiffany Novak, to graduation, and filling their cleats will be difficult. Emily George and Ashley Peskar should anchor the back line as it gains experience.

Emily Hawkins, a sophomore transfer from Texas, will start in goal until junior Whitney Degerberg returns from an injury; then the two will platoon, Johnson said.

The Tigers are led in the locker room and on the field by their senior leaders.

“We’ve been playing together since sixth grade,” Jackie Koetteritz said.

As well, Johnson said she doesn’t like to substitute often, so the Tigers’ conditioning will be called upon match in and match out. That shouldn’t be a problem, however.

“We have been running a lot,” the coach said during an indoor practice last week.

“And I keep reminding them it’s not because I hate ’em, it’s because we’re playing on a field about four times this size. They’re excited to run. Overall attitude is positive.”

Summit opens its season Thursday with a 3 p.m. match against Battle Mountain in Edwards.

Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13630, or at doneil@summitdaily.com.

Four to Watch

” Kirsten Cooper ” Sr., F

” Hannah Harvey ” So., F

” Courtney Wade ” Sr., HB

” Emily George ” Jr., FB


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