The returning players on Shawnee girls soccer team know how close they were to winning at least a sectional championship, and possibly more, in 2018.
In their final game of the season, the South Jersey Group 4 final, the Renegades led Eastern with less than five minutes left in regulation. The Vikings would tie the game late, win the sectional title in penalty kicks and would become Group 4 state champions a little more than a week later.
A little more than nine months later, the Renegades view that heartbreaking loss as ancient history. With most of the 2018 starting lineup back in 2019, the only focus for Shawnee this year is to play at the same high level as the 2018 squad that finished with an 18-2-4 record.
“We’re not really looking back on last season and that specific game,” senior Madison McCready said of the 2018 sectional final. “All we’re focused on is going as far as we possibly can go, because we have a great team this year.”
There’s no doubting the resume of some of Shawnee’s returning players. Senior twin sisters Alexa Endres and Kiley Endres lead the way up front for Shawnee, with Alexa coming off a 2018 season where she set a single-season program record for assists with 25. McCready will be one of the Renegades’ anchors in the midfield. Junior Brooke Steel is also back after leading Shawnee with 16 goals in 2018.
While the starting lineup has a ton of experience, Shawnee is searching for depth entering 2019. In addition to losing four players to graduation, five members of the Renegades’ 2018 varsity team left to play for development academies this year. In addition, junior Kaylin Johnston, another 2018 varsity player, transferred to Holy Cross in the offseason.
“There’s been a lot of difficulty trying to deepen our bench,” Kiley said. “But we have a lot of athletic girls.”
Head coach Drew Wagner said grooming younger girls to take over key spots on the varsity roster has been the biggest challenge of the 2019 preseason. However, he spoke highly of his senior class’ leadership, saying they are making the process of getting new players up to speed easier.
“This group of seniors is such a great group of leaders because they work extremely hard, they’re very talented, they have good attitudes and they show exactly what we want in a Shawnee soccer player,” Wagner said.
Alexa said the preseason work began well before the first practice in mid-August. The team played together over the summer to begin working toward gaining experience for 2019.
“It was about building to where we’re at,” Alexa said.
For the returning players, being a leader doesn’t just mean guiding the younger players, it’s also about being a team player. Kiley noted a number of returning starters will be playing new positions when the season opens on Sept. 3. Despite the changes, she said there has been no objections from the veterans.
“It’s an adjustment, but everyone is pretty much focused on doing what they have to do for the team,” Kiley said.
The team-focused atmosphere is apparent from the entire team. Wagner said the atmosphere surrounding the team has been extraordinary in the preseason and believes the Renegades are ready to tackle the high expectations on the team this year. McCready believes a lot of the team’s excitement is simply carrying over from last year. The Renegades want to have just as successful of a season as 2018 with one difference: this year, they want to finish the season on top.
“We know that we had a really strong team last year and we made it really far,” McCready said. “Since we have so many (players) returning, we want it even more this year.”