The theme song for the 2018 Stow-Munroe Falls girls soccer may have been the old Broadway show tune "Getting to Know You."
Head coach Jim Dudones was hired just days before the season started. Thus, the Bulldogs and their new coach had to go through the feeling-out process all season.
Given this, Dudones wasn’t disappointed with the season, despite Stow finishing 5-9-4 overall and 1-4-2 in the Suburban League National Conference. The Bulldogs won their opening playoff game before falling 9-0 to Walsh Jesuit in a Division I sectional final.
"I felt like I was proud of the effort everyone put in," Dudones said. "It was a tough situation. The girls didn’t have a coach to organize their summer workouts, so they had to organize it themselves. I think the girls played really hard. It wasn’t everything we wanted it to be, of course."
Now with a full offseason to work with his team, Dudones is ready to see Stow step up in his second year.
"I obviously feel more confident because I know everyone's name," Dudones said with a laugh. "There's a more defined style of play. For sure, there are elements of [the Stow boys team’s] style. I don't think that's a bad thing. At the base of everything is fitness. I feel that we are more fit this year. As tough as that team was last year, we’re tougher now."
Dudones did have to say goodbye to nine seniors from last year’s squad, including multi-year starters Emily Andrassy, Elyse Casalinova and Grace Merriman. The coach notes this year’s team has a good mix of old and younger players with only four seniors on the roster.
With an eye towards versatility, Stow will operate from a 3-5-2 formation this fall. Dudones hopes the new formation will help Stow with its defensive issues.
Another reason for Stow’s struggles last season was the National Conference had one of its best seasons from top to bottom. Conference champion Twinsburg reached the state semifinals.
"We had four teams that won 10 games in conference," Dudones said. "I hope we move up in the conference. I do not expect anyone to drop much from where than they were last season."
Stow’s varsity assistant coaches are Zoe Walsh and Dave Klingensmith, while Kent State University soccer player Khloe Moore joins the staff as head junior varsity coach.
Dudones admits the loss of goaltender Ashley Briggs to graduation is a big one, as Stow is a bit thin in net.
Sophomore Taylor Galioto will be Stow’s No. 1 this fall with sophomore Charlotte Hosek serving as backup and JV keeper.
In front of net, however, Stow has a trio of returning starters occupying its center back positions.
Sophomore Sadie Lenc will start in the middle of the defense after coming on strong at the end her freshman year, while senior captain Mckenzie Klingensmith moves back after starting at defensive midfield. Klingensmith likely will still play a big role in set pieces.
Senior Katie Goldan also returns to start at defense. Sophomore Courtney Casenhiser is a "utility player" on the Bulldogs’ backline, while junior Sophie Gage also could see time.
After dealing with health issues last season, senior Nina Rorabaugh is fit and ready to anchor Stow at holding midfielder.
"She's very skillful when the ball is at her feet," Dudones said. "She can go up and get it for sure."
Junior Roeyn Kalpac also will see time at holding mid.
At central midfield, sophomore Peyton Benci is "extremely fit and extremely skilled" to play the box-to-box role.
At attacking midfield, Dudones is very high on freshman Kailey Hobart.
"She has a nose for wanting to get to the goal," Dudones said.
Junior Ayla Hargert, who transferred to Stow from Field High School, can play anywhere in the midfield, while junior Kylie Briggs also will see time, though she is dealing with injuries in the preseason.
Dudones notes the key positions in Stow’s 3-5-2 formation are the wingers. He plans to keep "a cohort of four" due to the high work rate the position demands.
At right winger, Dudones said freshman Grace Beck’s "soccer IQ is through the roof," while junior Krista McDowell will provide speed and athleticism.
Speaking of speed, the left winger spot will include junior Paige Neely.
"She is an electric athlete," Dudones said. "It's clear to me that she loves to play this game."
Freshamn Paige Klingensmith will also provide speed at left wing.
Stow’s starting tandem at forward has plenty of experience, as Dudones will put seniors Madison Marino — who scored 10 goals last fall — and Jane Freeman up top.
"Madi’s foot quickness is amazing. She is extremely fast when she has the ball and loves to go on net." Dudones said. "[Freeman] can play everywhere on the field, including in goal. She’s an extraordinary athlete."
Sophomore Haley McKnight and junior target player Micahela Del Ferraro also will see time at forward.
Stow is set to open its season as part of the OHSAA’s "Friday Night Futbol" initiative, as the Bulldogs will travel to Medina Highland Friday at 7 p.m. Stow’s home opener will be next Wednesday at 7 p.m against backyard rival Kent Roosevelt.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO