WEST CHESTER– From fourth in the Greater Miami Conference to fifth in the nation. Lakota West is steam rolling into the new season with a new crop of talent and high expectations.
USA Today released their Preseason Top 25 in High School girls soccer, and the Firebirds, who finished last fall with a record of 12-8-3, were selected fifth.
“I’m not really sure how those votes came about,” said West’s head coach Brigit Reder. “It’s certainly exciting, but it’s one of those things where we take it, and are proud of it for five minutes, then we move on. It provides a lot of pressure, but we are up to the challenge. Now it’s a matter of backing that up.”
The Firebirds are the lone Ohio school featured in the USA Today poll. Not only that, but they are one of six schools to not be featured in the rankings at all just a season ago, as well as being the only school to lose more than three matches.
So the question is, how is it possible that a team pegged to be the fifth best in the country, finished fourth in their conference last season? The answer is fairly simple.
“We are returning a lot of players, and have added a tremendous amount of talent,” said Reder confidently. West is bringing back 13 varsity players, as well as adding three players from the Cincinnati Development Academy. “That combination of things, as well as the seniority and leadership on this team is what encompasses that ranking.”
The three joining from the ‘DA’ are Maddie Prohaska, Kailyn Dudukovich and Sydney Jones. The trio are all Division I commits; Prohaska is going to Auburn, while Dudukovich and Jones are Ohio State bound.
“It’s awesome,” said Dudovich about the USA Today poll. “Rankings just give us something to prove, and we are just taking it one day at a time.”
The spirit of ‘One day at a time’ was felt at Wests girls soccer practice, and Coach Reder reiterated those notions.
“We have a mentality this year where it’s only a game at a time. We don’t want to look too far ahead, where we miss the daily work that needs to be put in,” said the Firebirds’ mentor. “One game at time, one practice at a time.”
That isn’t to say that they are void of their goals. No team is without their expectations before a season, Coach Reder and the Firebirds are going at the year with tunnel-vision.
“We want to win the GMC, that’s the first step,” said Reder. “We were the District Runners-up last year, so we want that District title and to move on beyond that.”
It’s been 15 years (2004) since the last time that Lakota West won the conference, which illustrates just how strong the GMC can be. Since that year, Sycamore has won the title three times, while Fairfield and Oak Hills have claimed it twice. Mason, on the other hand, has won the GMC seven times, including last fall, since 2008 when the Comets joined the conference.
“The GMC is no joke,” said Reder. “Fairfield and Mason have finished near the top the past couple of years. There is talent throughout the conference. But, we structure our schedule around tough teams.” In fact the Firebirds are opening up their season against powerhouse Loveland, who won the state title in 2017. “We are playing high-level teams so that we see that competition. It doesn’t do us justice to have an easier schedule, just to get to playoff time and get shell-shocked.”
Though West is certainly excited about the three players coming from the DA, they bring back plenty of talent from a year ago. Tori Kelley and Jenna Sitarski are a couple of seniors that will provide strength at defensive positions. Everywhere you look, there will be talent. Which is why Coach Reder has told her team that they will never let up.
“We told them that we never want to settle,” said Reder about the season. “Whether the game is, 1-0, 2-0 or whatever the score is we are never letting up. We are going to go pedal to the medal for all 80 minutes from the top to the bottom of our roster.”
At season’s end the GMC, Cincinnati and Ohio might have a new top dog, or should I say Firebird.
The fifth ranked Firebirds open their season against Loveland on Tuesday. They begin GMC play next Tuesday against Sycamore.