After years of coaching academy in the Tonka United club program, and ninth grade at Hopkins High School in 2018, Sammi Crocker is excited to join the Holy Family Catholic varsity girls program this season.
Crocker is the third coach in three years for the Fire and fourth in five seasons.
While still getting to know everyone and everything about the opponents on Holy Family Catholic's schedule, Crocker does see unique qualities in the group she's working with.
"I do expect the girls to find a new level of competition and grit within themselves every time they step on the field together. We have a big focus on unity and viewing our program as a family this year, and that, combined with a focus on hard work and pushing to be our best should lead us into a successful, enjoyable season," she said.
Even with players ranging in age from eighth grade to seniors, from different area cities to different club experience, Crocker has seen them come together and act like a team in the first week of the season.
"I'm really excited to see how the girls continue to work together and encourage each other to utilize their strengths for the good of the team," she said.
Senior Ella Haley, team leader in goals in 2017, is a captain Crocker sees as a leader of the team with her work ethic, natural skills and excitement for the team.
Eighth grader Kate Buchholz, a new player at Holy Family, has already shown her dedication to the sport and to improving her play on this team. "I think she's going to be a huge asset to the HFCHS soccer family for years to come," Crocker said.
Mimi, Kenzie and Haley Pavelka, triplets, are all on the team this year.
"Mimi is expected to be a power house at center mid, with Kenzie and Haley playing key roles on the back line and wing, respectively," Crocker said.
Holy Family Catholic opens the season at home on Thursday, Aug. 22 at 5 p.m. against DeLaSalle.
For Crocker, these first few weeks are about helping the team to gel together and start to understand each other's style of play and strengths.
"(It's about) getting in game shape -- we have a smaller roster than some of the girls are used to. Ensuring the girls are in game shape is going to be key to finding success and staying healthy this season," she said. "Knowing and solidifying the basics, getting lots of touches, getting used to the team, getting excited to be on the field together."
The first year can be considered a transitional season. The second year it's about getting down to business.
For Mark Anderson, fourth all-time in the state of Minnesota with 447 wins -- four short of tying for third place -- the 2019 on-field goals are to challenge the top teams for a chance at conference and section titles.
"There are a number of teams that have this opportunity and we are working towards being one of the squads with a realistic opportunity," Anderson said.
Having only graduated one senior from last year's varsity, Southwest Christian will have more depth this year. Additionally, the Stars skills on the turf have drastically improved.
Senior Laura Horstman is back in goal, while a strong midfield group led by senior Nasya Ramli and junior Emma Baribault should create opportunities to score this season.
"We have many players that have worked very hard this past off-season so we are looking forward to seeing how that translates into individual and ultimately team performance on the field," Anderson said.
Southwest Christian opens the season at Minneapolis South at 4 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 23. In the pre-season practices it's been all about health and tactics.
"We can not afford injuries," Anderson said. "We are using a new formation this year that we need to work on. We are taking a different defensive approach this year that needs to be worked on, too," the coach said.