LITHIA — Team talent has never been an issue for Newsome High girls soccer coach Kelly Townsend. In her first six seasons, the Wolves have won at least 13 games each year, and this year is no different, as the team is off to a 10-0 start.
If strictly because of youth, Townsend might have had questions about the Wolves’ defense, with a junior and three sophomores matching up against opposing forwards. However, those questions have been answered decisively, as the Wolves have allowed three goals this season, while Newsome’s offense has scored 55 on opponents.
The defensive leader was never in question, as two-time All-Hillsborough first-teamer Karli Gutsche, an Auburn commitment, has been outstanding at defensive midfield for the Wolves. But Gutsche’s biggest step forward has been as a leader for the Wolves.
“Karli is our core, and it’s no big surprise in how well she has played, but she’s really stepped up as a leader and is so much more confident this season,” Townsend said. “She’s always been a leader, but I think as a freshman or sophomore she always thought it was someone else’s team, and now she really feels like it is her team.”
The three sophomores joining Gutsche on defense, Taylor McNeff, Shayna Zajac (both All-Hillsborough second-teamers last season) and Jaime Tompkins, had an instant chemistry, Townsend said.
“The defense came together so quickly,” Townsend said. “The way they jelled — I expected it, but it happened a lot faster than I thought it would.”
Gutsche has made her presence known with 10 goals this season, just off the team lead of Lindsey Eaton at 13 and ahead of Peyton Smith’s seven goals.
Lions boys learning from early setbacks
King’s 6-3-2 start has been a good continuation of last season’s district runner-up finish, but second-year coach Brian Dozark said the most important part of this season has been his team’s grasping of his message — although it is one he has repeated regularly.
“The boys are probably sick of hearing it from me, but I tell them over and over about the importance of managing the match,” Dozark said.
Match management is certainly a crucial part of the process, and in the three losses this season, Dozark said he has seen moments that he has been able to use to teach the concept.
The Lions had early success by topping Newsome and Tampa Prep in the Wharton Invitational Tournament and pushed Sickles to penalty kicks before falling in the tournament final. They have picked up solid wins against Durant, Hillsborough and Clearwater, and had losses to Palm Harbor and district opponent Lennard.
The Lennard loss, a 2-1 come-from-behind Longhorns win, may be the match that drove the “match management” message home.
“I tell them to be disciplined, not panicking, because when you get excited, you get undisciplined and when you’re undisciplined, you get out of position,” Dozark said. “That’s what happened with Lennard.”
Ahead 1-0, things turned after a foul set up a converted free kick and panic set in a little. The defense allowed a late second goal in the loss.
“Sometimes in matches those things get magnified,” Dozark said. “But I’d rather those things happen now, rather than later in the year.”
“With Lennard, I saw it on their faces, they knew exactly what I’d been talking about.”
King played Bloomingdale to a draw during the Thanksgiving break, but the Lions got back on the winning path with a 4-1 victory against East Bay on Tuesday.