After starting the season 0-2, the Cair Paravel girls football team has won nine of their last ten games, including the last six in a row.
After a 1-0 home win at Baldwin on Friday, the team holds a 9-3 record as they look to improve on last year’s debut year in KSHSAA competition, which included a regional title and a trip to state tournament ended.
Of the 24 players in the program, 18 are underclassmen and 12 are freshmen.
The future is bright. But Cair Paravel is also playing a good ball now.
Last year, second-year forward Katherine Keys came on the scene as a freshman as the city’s top scorer while making the all-city team.
This year, Keys and newcomer Zahra Lewis lead the Cair Paravel attack.
“I was so excited with excitement,” said coach Doug Woolery before the start of the season about the potential of the two. “I thought, ‘This brings a whole ‘different dimension to CPLS girls’ football that we haven’t had before'”
A 7-0 win over Kansas City Christian on April 18 gave the team a 7-3 record with 45 goals scored.
At the time, Lewis (17) and Keys (13) had 30 of those goals combined, in addition to Lewis having four assists and Keys having six more.
“Katherine has grown a lot just by being there on the field,” Woolery said. “She flipped a switch, she got more physical.”
Although veteran midfielder Jaley Barkley was lost earlier in the season due to a cruciate ligament tear that affected both sides of the ball, a big part of the underclassmen’s two forwards’ success over the course of the season has been the return of second midfielder Allison Schwarz and junior midfielder Sage Schwartz returned to their original positions.
Initially, Schwarz and Schwartz both played in defense as injuries caused players to play out of place with several recovering, but their return to midfield has created more opportunities for Keys and Lewis.
“I just had to figure out how she plays and how we can work together with her speed, she’s super fast,” said Keys, who said she sees the potential for her and Lewis in preseason. “[Itwasallaboutgivinghergoodthroughballsandconnectingwithherthroughthemiddle”
Woolery first met Lewis over the summer after she had a shade day to see what a day at Cair Paravel would be like and he invited her to football practice.
“She showed up for a practice session and I got a good sense of the dominant left foot and speed,” Woolery said. “She came and joined us over the summer when she decided to come on board and I was just super excited. Even when you go into ninth grade, you can see the definite skill and potential there.”
Keys also noticed Lewis early on.
“I first met them last summer, we do kickarounds in the summer to play some football,” Keys said. “That was the first thing I noticed, she was really fast. We ran cross-country in the fall, it was impressive to see her speed.”
Another change Woolery made that led to more production was moving Keys to the outside and putting Lewis on the “9,” often the team’s center forward or main forward, for the Seaman game three games a year.
Cair Paravel would beat Seaman 2-0 with two goals from Lewis.
“In that Seaman game, when I played the 9 and had more chances on the ball, I feel like that’s when my team realized they could trust me,” Lewis said. “Now that Katherine is on the left, she gets the ball down that cross a lot and we get a lot of scoring chances.”
As the season progressed, they were able to play each other off more as they learned how the other played.
“Katherine is a really aggressive player and isn’t afraid to put the ball down the field, she’s also a really selfless player,” said Lewis. “We work really well together because we both have a good balance between selflessness and selfishness.”
In addition to youth playing a key role in offense, youth also play a key role in defense.
Freshman goaltender Sawyer Schwartz had a great first season at the net, with the last four games being shutouts with eight total in 12 games.
“I had never seen Sawyer as a goaltender,” Woolery said. “It was only in the autumn that she came to me and said she wanted to be a goalkeeper. She’s really excellent in that position.”
She is protected by a line of defense anchored by two central defenders from underclass sophomore Trinity Childs and freshman Veronica Ignoto.
Childs has previously played in defense but was a winger and City’s second-best scorer last year but has made the switch this year as her sister, senior Esther Childs, has not yet been able to step onto the field since she is recovering from an injury.
“I was best suited for playback there,” Childs said of the position switch. “I was happy to get promoted if that’s what the team needed this year.”
Childs might be a forward at heart, but watching her play on defense the way she deflects forward-played passes looks natural.
That comes from their offensive experience.
“I try and think about what I did on offense and the moves that I did to people and I try to think, ‘This is what someone could do to me,'” Childs said. “I used the plays I made when I was playing and tried to anticipate what some of the other attackers on the opposing team are going to do, trying to think ahead and do my best with the knowledge I have , since I haven’t played much defense in a long time.”
Ignoto missed the first couple of games with a sprained ankle but the newcomer has slipped into the role of centre-back since her return and has excelled. She attributes this to the team’s communication.
“Without communication it’s easy, I wouldn’t say it’s football,” said Ignoto. “You need this communication piece. I feel like it was the building part of our synergy.”
Woolery has not seen Ignoto at any of the summer activities as Cair Paravel’s new student and was impressed by Ignoto’s ability to fit into a difficult position as a freshman.
“I go through a hell of a week the first week of football where I condition them the snot,” Woolery said. “I saw that she really excelled at that, I felt, and with some of the exercises that we did, I felt like this girl knew what she was doing. Your football IQ is high for a newcomer.”
A newer defender than Ignoto, having played defense for most of her football career, Childs said she knew Ignoto was a good back when the team played futsal at the gym in the summer and she watched her defend back then.
“It supported our spine,” Woolery said of Childs and Ignoto’s defensive pairing. “Veronica and Trinity in the background were great.”
The new pairing have also helped each other outdo each other.
“I remember when she played her first game, she did great,” Childs said. “She’s really improved, and being new to it, it helps to have another person who knows more about what they’re doing than I do. It’s nice to have her back to help me.”
Aside from having 18 underclassmen on the roster, none of the players currently on the starting lineup are seniors.
“Younger players are starting to step up,” Woolery said Saturday after defeating a 6-1-1 Baldwin team. “One of the things I’ve been thinking about is every single player that you saw on the field yesterday will be back next year, many of them sophomores.”
Woolery added that he’s pleased with the way the team has come together over the course of the season, particularly with some of the newer players who have come on.
“I’m surprised at how much new talent I’m getting that I didn’t know I was getting,” Woolery said. “If I’m looking forward to next season holy cow, we have some good things ahead of us!”
His players see that too.
“I would say we were pretty hungry from last year after winning the regional title and ending the season being beaten by Bishop Miege,” Childs said. “It put into perspective that we had a chance. This year we thought it was going to be a recovery year, but when we did our best we had a chance.
“This year we know what we can do and how far we can go, especially with the talent we have. I think we have a really big chance to go further than last year and I think we’re all ready to give everything in the work to do better.”
Contact Seth Kinker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SethKinker