In his 17 years as Woodridge girls soccer coach, Jason Allenspach has had plenty of ups and downs — but the 2018 season left him perplexed.
On paper, the senior-heavy and talented Bulldogs should have been primed for a big season. Instead, Woodridge finished 9-8-1 overall and 4-3 in the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division, finishing in fourth place.
Allenspach thought his team had much more potential than it showed.
"Based on our roster that we had last year, it was something that I didn’t expect," Allenspach said. "What it comes down to is the overall team culture is what matters. If you don’t have the right culture, you’re going to fall short of expectations. We didn’t jell. That kept us from achieving our true potential. I wish I had a definitive answer as to why."
With nine seniors graduated and five others not returning, Woodridge will only have 26 players in the program this fall. The good news: In terms of team culture, Allenspach said Woodridge is "quite the opposite this year."
"First and foremost, we want to be enjoying the little moments. I think we got far away from it," Allenspach said. "I know this team is going to be successful. We try to get back to the life basics and let the soccer parts take care of itself.
"We do want to finish higher in the PTC. I would like to improve our ranking there," Allenspach said, noting he believes Streetsboro likely will be a big favorite in this year’s Metro Division race.
While he plans to stick will a 4-3-3 formation, Allenspach set he would like to see a lot more pressure on the ball in the offensive third, noting the team spent a good team of time working on "our presence on this field,"
With only 26 girls in the program, Allenspach said depth is a concern this fall, as Woodridge will play a limited junior varsity schedule.
"It’s pretty concerning," Allenspach said. "We’re really in a fragile state. If we have one or two players go down, it kind of creates a gigantic hole."
Allenspach’s assistant coach this fall will be Michele Jagodzinski, who was formerly the head boys coach at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.
Woodridge will have two young talents competing to start at goalie.
Sophomore Emmy Stekleenburg "has high ceiling as far as her potential goes," according to Allenspach. Freshman Anna Rorrer also could see time in goal, but the speedy Rorrer also likely will see time at forward after scoring two goals in the preseason.
One of the biggest losses to graduation for Woodridge was center back Emily Austin, who is now playing at IUPU Fort Wayne. Fortunately, senior captain Sydney Kuhlke is finally healthy after missing much of last year.
Kuhlke will likely form a center back partnership with fellow senior captain Eleanor Sterling, while junior Maddie Karlo and Olivia Woods also will play defense.
At outside bask, junior Layla Foster likely will get the nod at right back, while sophomore Riley Ilg will split time between left back and holding midfield. Junior Rachel Freeman can play anywhere on the outside, while sophomore Kyley Dugan is a left-footed specialist. Freshman Paige Powell could be a natural center back, but Allenspach would like to develop her on the outside.
The holding midfield spot will be filled by committee, as Sterling and Ilg will rotate in.
Allenspanch said Woodridge lost another "special player" in midfielder Anna Schmeltzer, who now plays at Walsh University. However, he believes junior Katie Austin could have a breakout season at attacking midfield.
"She’s got that technical ability," Allenspach said. "She does a really good job. One vs. one, she takes on everybody."
Karlo will form a partnership with Austin at attacking midfield.
Woodridge has some experience at the left wing spot, as senior Izzie Dolciato will return to start. A corps that includes junior Abby Bergdorf, junior Maddie Lightner and junior Paige Lyman also is likely to see time at right wing.
One of Woodridge’s biggest challenges this year will be to make up for the loss of forward Megan Anderson, who scored 19 goals last fall. To that end, Allenspach is looking to junior Bella Paratore to have big year after she scored four goals while moving around the offensive roles for Woodridge last year.
"She wants to score goals," Allenspach said. "She’s a full team player. We need her to go for it."
Lightner, who also scored four goals last year, also will see time up top, while Allenspach notes Rorrer could be perfect in a substitution role at forward.
Woodridge has a busy opening to the season. The Bulldogs travel to Creston Norway Friday at 7 p.m. before visiting Alliance Marlington Monday at 7 p.m. The Bulldogs’ home opener will be Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. vs. Alliance, before Kenston visits Lahoski Field Aug. 24 at 3 p.m.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO