Chaska Soccer - Vuolo

Chaska girls soccer coach Steve Vuolo talks to the team before overtime in a 4-3 win over Chanhassen last season. Vuolo led the Hawks from a seventh place finish in the Metro West Conference in 2017 to second place in 2018.

The 2018 Chaska girls soccer season had it all.

Success, a combined 10 wins and draws.

A flare for the dramatic, which included a late rally, a natural hat trick on consecutive free kicks, for a victory over Chanhassen.

And heartbreak. A draw or win away from the program's first league title since 1993, Chaska was defeated in the Metro West Conference finale on a second-half penalty kick.

So naturally, the program that went from seventh to second in the league standings has its sights on the title.

"When you finish second in the conference by a point the prior year, it's hard to not make winning the conference one of your goals. Still, we have big shoes to fill in several key positions of some of the seniors who graduated and we play Benilde-St. Margaret and Chanhassen on the road this year," Chaska head coach Steve Vuolo said. "The positive is that we are returning 13 players from last year's team and we are still relatively young with only three seniors."

Key losses included goaltender Grace Northamer, captains in the middle in Grace Maertens and Lily Smalley -- the golden leg on those Chanhassen free kick goals -- and top scorer Payton Schultz.

But in a system where Vuolo exposed 18 players to the varsity turf last season, other Hawks are ready to step up.

Look for junior Sammie Ramboldt and senior Lilly Halvorson to create scoring opportunities along with senior midfielder Alex Peterson.

Annaliese Gulland, Kaylee Van Eps and Abby Rogers all played extensive minutes on the back end of the formation as sophomores.

"Abby Rogers was an all-conference player last year on the defensive side. Sometimes, it's hard for defenders to get recognition, but she is a player to watch. Also, we have Lilly Esping coming off an ACL injury and Alex Peterson coming off a nagging ankle injury. They have both looked really strong in our tryouts," Vuolo said.

Esping, a varsity contributor as a freshman, was hurt on the opening day of the pre-season last year. Her play in the middle of the field should help Chaska in the attack.

"I think we need to a little better out of the conference and on the road this year. We won some amazing home games last year. This year, we need to replicate that at home but need to improve a bit on the road," Vuolo said.

Something that needs to replication is camaraderie. Chaska was one team last year, feeding off each other in every moment together.

"These girls really like each other and they are willing to do what it takes for each other. Our captain leadership has been equally effective with Ky Florek, Lilly Halvorson and Alex Peterson. The vibe is fantastic," the head coach said.

Chaska opens the season at home at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 22 against Minneapolis South at Chaska Middle School West. A 10 a.m. home match follows Saturday, Aug. 24 versus Waconia.

Chaska is already ahead of the game versus 2018. Vuolo said he knew everyone's name on Day One this time.

"We are going to try a new formation with a little more attacking mindset. I think it will work well with the personnel that we have but it may take some practice in the earlier days," Vuolo said.

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