Last year was an odd one for roster construction, according to Shawnee girls soccer coach Drew Wagner, whose team largely consisted of freshmen and seniors. The result was another strong showing by the Renegades, who went 14-4-2 on the season.
But after senior graduations last June, Shawnee finds itself in an even more interesting situation, especially when you consider that two of those graduates were last year’s starting goalie and leading goal scorer, respectively: Ava Rieger and Nikki Dedes.
“Last year, we kind of felt young and old,” Wagner said. “We had a lot of freshmen and a lot of seniors. Of course, we graduated all those seniors, so now we have a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing, so we’re really young and inexperienced … We do have a few older girls on the team but, for the most part, we’re young overall.”
Despite the noticeable difference in varsity experience between last season and now, the Renegades have started off strong, defeating both Paul VI and Seneca to begin the 2022-’23 season at 2-0.
One of the team’s key returners this season is junior Mackenzie McCready, who led the team in assists with 28 last year, exactly half of the Renegades’ total. Her assists record was good for the most in the Olympic Conference, and fourth in the state last year, her breakout season.
That season, Wagner said, was a lot of fun to watch, thanks to McCready’s budding on-field chemistry with then-senior Dedes. Now Wagner hopes the junior can transition into more of a goal scorer this season as she continues to help set up scoring chances for her teammates.
“We’re hoping that she might take that next step and start scoring a little more on her own, because we don’t really have that finisher right now like we did last year in Dedes,” Wagner said. “We need someone to step up and be that finisher, and we’re hoping she’ll take that next step …
“We were so pleased with the way she created for us last year, and she’s continuing to do it again this year,” he added. “We just look forward to her being a finisher for us when she has the chance to as well.”
Through the Renegades’ first two games, McCready has the team’s only two assists, from a 1-0 win over Paul VI and a 3-1 win over Seneca. She’s also trying for the team lead in goals, as four different players have scored each of the Renegades’ first four goals.
McCready feels like she’s always been more of a facilitator than a finisher, hence her strong season last year on the field. Now, recognizing that she’s one of the more experienced girls on the team and is expected to take on a larger role in front of the net, she’s ready for the challenge.
“Last year, we more so had a lot of finishers, and I was thrown into that spot of being more of an assister, which was great, because I feel like that’s who I’d always been,” McCready said. “It made it really easy for me to just try and create chances for my teammates.
“But this year, I definitely want to go into more of a scoring role; I recognize that’s something we need this year,” she added. “I’ll always have my assists and passing ability to fall back on.”