There’s a new coach leading the West Jefferson girls soccer team this fall, but he’s not an unfamiliar face.
Jason Phillips takes over the reins of the Lady Roughriders program after serving as an assistant in the program for a number of years. His familiarity with the players in the program, and their familiarity with them has made for a near seamless transition.
“The transition was pretty easy,” Phillips said. “I’ve worked with most of these kids before so it really wasn’t that difficult.”
Another thing that helped ease the changing from one coach to another is the fact that the entire Roughriders squad from a year ago returned. There were no seniors on the 2013 team that went 9-7-1, one of the more successful seasons in school history. With everyone on board, the team is already ahead of where it ended last year.
“We’ve got the girls back from last year and we have another who played volleyball a year ago and a couple of new freshmen,” the coach said. “I really like this group of girls.”
Without any seniors a year ago, younger players were thrust into leadership roles perhaps a season or two earlier than they would have normally been in them. But West Jeff should now benefit from those experiences.
“A lot of these girls were forced to step up and play bigger roles last year,” Phillips said. “A few of them have started since their freshman year and I think we’ll be a pretty solid squad.”
The Roughriders defense will be anchored by senior sweeper Paige Humble. This is her third year starting on the defensive side and her experience and ability make her a key to what West Jefferson wants to do defensively.
“She’s an absolute wall back there,” the coach said.
Humble will be playing in front of junior keeper Ashtyn Webb. This will be her third year in goal and her coach has seen tremendous improvement.
“She’s getting better and better,” Phillips said. “She’s a big key to the season. She was all-district last year after making a lot of stops. I have every bit of confidence in her ability.”
Also helping to solidify the defense is senior Allison Haskins.
Offensively the team returns 2013 leading scorer Sydney Gaus and will rely heavily on forward Hunter Stull and midfielders Claire Sterling and Madi Phillips.
The team will also welcome freshman Hope Lewis. The youngster has been able to carve out a starting spot within the collection of veteran players.
“It’s not an easy team to come in and start on the varsity, especially with as many experienced girls that we have coming back. But she’s been able to do that.”
The Roughriders will need their deep, talented squad to once again keep pace in the Mid-State League Ohio Division. The league is as tough as ever with the likes of Columbus Academy, Worthington Christian, Bexley and Grandview all still in the division.
Phillips knows that the trek through the league won’t be easy, but he also has seen the West Jefferson program come so far in such a short amount of time.
“A lot of those programs have kids that play soccer year round,” he said. “We have kids that play a lot of other sports. But just a few years ago we were losing games 7-0, 10-0, 12-0 to those type of teams. We’ve narrowed the margin and I think we’re at the point where we can surprise people.
“My expectation is to not just go out there and keep those games close, but to go out and win those games. There’s not a team we play that we can’t beat.”
Chris Miles can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.