There are times when building a successful program needs to be done from the ground up.
Unfortunately, that appears to be the case for the Tallmadge girls soccer team this fall.
Due to low numbers, the Blue Devils will not have a junior varsity team for the first time in recent memory. Tallmadge has only 20 players on its roster and all of them will dress for the varsity squad.
"That’s going to be a challenge," Blue Devils’ fifth-year head coach Steve Davis said. "We’re hoping that rebounds. We’ll make it work as best as we can."
Thankfully, Davis, who has led Talmadge to a 30-27-12 record since 2015, doesn’t have to start from scratch.
While the 2018 season didn’t produce a winning season, it was certainly a respectable account on all levels.
The Blue Devils finished 7-9-1 overall and saw their season end with a 2-0 loss to Alliance Marlington in a Canton Division II sectional title game.
Tallmadge is still a long way away from being competitive in the rugged Suburban League American Conference. The Blue Devils did not earn a single win in conference play last season.
Davis knows the harsh realities his eager but understrength personnel faces. Nonetheless, Tallmadge won’t get any sympathy from its conference rivals.
"We’re just going to take it one game at a time and see where it goes," Davis said. "Our goal is always to win the league. There’s some tough competition. It’s not going to be an easy road."
It will be especially difficult since Davis said goodbye to four quality players last October. Graduating seniors were goalie Maria Kisha, who is now playing at Lake Erie College in Painesville; center midfielder/outside midfielder Emily Newenhisen; center defender Isabel Chaplin; and defensive midfielder Lauryssa Ridenour.
Davis hasn’t lost faith in his current group, though. Despite the low numbers, Davis feels his determined group of young ladies will find a way to persevere despite the never-ending obstacles in front of them.
"They’re a great group," Davis said. "They’re enthusiastic and excited. There’s a lot to do in terms of development. The big thing is, we need to increase our speed of play."
Their new home should guide them along the way.
No longer facing the divot-filled, sloth-paced dirt and grass of Thomas Rossiaky Stadium, the Blue Devils will soon play on a state-of-the-art turf field that is scheduled to open later this month.
"The turf makes a difference in how fast you play," Davis said. "We’re looking forward to playing in the new stadium. It gives us a chance to do more community things."
One of those community activities is the Big Little Clinic, which is tentatively scheduled to take place Sept. 30.
"The boys and girls soccer team will run a clinic for the youth players," Davis said. "We want to connect the high school team with the youth players. Hopefully, it will keep them excited for game. We want to make it fun."
Tallmadge will be led by two senior captains. They are goalkeeper Maryn Montgomery and midfielder Sydney Marcum.
"Maryn has played behind Maria the last few years," Davis said. "She has learned a lot and developed. Sydney is going to be our leader on the field. She does a great job of organizing."
Other returning seniors include forwards Kate Hussing and Jaclyn Adams and stopper Kylee McCracken. Hussing led the Blue Devils with 19 goals last season. She also finished with five assists.
Junior Halle Caruso is expected to start at outside midfielder where she can utilize her strong left foot. Sophomore center midfielder Natalie Onchak is expected to handle the majority of the team’s set pieces.
"Natalie and Sydney are our playmakers," Davis said.
Claire Breiding is expected to be the team’s starting back and freshman Julia Onchak plans to wreak havoc on opposing defenses as an outside midfielder.
"We’re going to run a lot of attacking options through Julia," Davis said.
Other seniors include forward Luisa Adam, goalkeeper Chloe Heestand and midfielder Cara Mayfield and the other junior is midfielder Zoe Dirker.
The rest of the sophomore class comprises midfielders Morgan Graham and Katie Hudak; forward Farah Heestand; defender Mackenzie McCracken; and goalkeeper Ellie Hudak.
Davis also welcomes three other freshmen. They are defender Maddie Davis and forward Jadyn Harjung.
The rest of the coaching staff features former boys soccer team boss Larry Davis, who is the head coach’s father, Brandon Olivo and Allan Miller.
The younger Davis plans to run either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-4 formation.
"We’re still working on that," he said. "My dad and I are arguing about that."
Davis believes his team’s defense can hold its own against anyone. Putting the ball in the net, on the other hand, is the biggest chink in the armor thus far.
"If we can score goals, we’ll be in great shape," Davis said. "We’re pretty organized defensively. We have the right tools, the right pieces."
The Blue Devils are scheduled to open their 2019 season at their new stadium Aug. 24. Tallmadge is set to play Suburban League crossover rival Cuyahoga Falls at 7 p.m.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.