Plano head girls soccer coach Heather Morse took stock in the type of players she had for this season and opted for a change in scheme to better suit that personnel. So far, so good.
The Lady Wildcats are 7-0 since the turn of the new year, bolstering their start to the season with three wins at the Andie Studley Memorial Showcase on Jan. 7-9. Held at Wylie ISD Stadium, Plano picked up victories over Longview (4-0), Rockwall-Heath (2-0) and Wylie (1-0).
“I feel very positive. Our team is really coming together and playing the style and system that I want them to play,” Morse said. “We’ve got some interchangeability and versatility with our players, plus some depth, and that’s really exciting for us.”
Part of that optimism stems from Plano’s acclimation for more of a box system in the middle, according to Morse. She added that the Lady Wildcats don’t have as many natural wing players as in previous years, which contributed to the decision to implement a scheme more geared towards the middle of the pitch.
The style change hasn’t slowed the Lady Wildcats’ goal-scoring production to begin the season, however — Plano outscored its first four opponents, 10-1. That includes a torrid start to the year up front for senior Amanda Walsh, who after battling injuries throughout her career has already found the back of the net five times early into the season.
“She’s one of the most dynamic players we’ve ever had in terms of speed, ability and soccer IQ,” Morse said. “She’s been hurt for us the majority of her career with knee injuries, back injuries, concussions and then she torn her labrum in a season-ending injury against Plano East two years ago. To have her healthy and firing on all cylinders is such a difference maker.”
The forward has gotten help from junior Addison Peters, who already has three goals, while junior Ashley Burger and senior Natalie Montanez have scored one goal each. Montanez and Burger comprise a deep cast of midfielders, with the former emblematic of Plano’s added flexibility within its roster.
Montanez was one of several options used on the back line as part of an otherwise shorthanded defense during the tournament games in Wylie. As senior Emma TenBrink recovers from a shin injury, Morse called upon younger sister and junior Elysse TenBrink, as well as Montanez and junior Kamryn Pham, to fill in at centre-back.
Plano also had a new face in goal with junior Taylor Richards playing at a club showcase. Morse lauded the work in net of freshman Sabrina Schilt, who was called up from the team’s junior varsity roster to contribute in goal.
“We brought her up to see if she was able to hang at the varsity level. That was confirmed — she’ll definitely be able to do that,” Morse said.
As Plano’s back line develops, Morse is focusing on continuing to fortify the middle. Last season, the Lady Wildcats’ midfield was buoyed plenty by the play of junior Mackenzie Mieras, who tallied five goals and six assists on her way to 9-6A midfielder of the year honors. She, along with Montanez and junior Lexie Moore, have impressed as well early into the season.
“I’m looking to iron out our system of play,” Morse said. “When we played weaker opponents it looked really good centrally, but when we played Wylie it still looked good but it was a little more challenging. I expect the competition to be as strong, if not stronger, than the one we just had so we just need to iron out the roles for those four central players.”
The Lady Wildcats continued to make progress Thursday-Saturday in Colleyville at the Allison Horn Showcase. Plano picked up wins over Keller (6-2), Northwest Eaton (2-0) and Rockwall (3-0). That tournament was the final tune-up before the Lady Wildcats kick off District 6-6A play on Jan. 26 at Coppell. The Cowgirls are currently ranked No. 10 in Class 6A by the Texas Girls Coaches Association.
“I always have an expectation to make the playoffs,” Morse said. “I think we can get a fourth-place spot with the goalkeeping and defense that we have, plus the job Amanda and Addison have done producing goals. You’ve got to score goals, but everything seems to be clicking early on for all four of our lines.”