NAPPANEE – Just a season ago, Emma Martz learned about soccer at a rapid pace in a trial by fire. Just a few weeks ago, Martz was in a similar scenario, just this time, learning from much bigger players.
Martz, who is entering her sophomore season at NorthWood, got her highlight reel together. After getting it in the right hands, Martz was selected to participate in a national organization called SuperClubs. From there, Martz found herself training and learning her soccer craft with the club this past summer in France. The experience was quite different than what Martz has become used to in the States.
“Over in France, the play was way more physical, more than anything we have here,” Martz said. “Their skill level on the ball, you can tell they train for hours and hours just on footwork and technical stuff. I’m hoping to bring back some of the training things we were taught there and put that into my game this fall with NorthWood.”
Martz, who noted she watched a FIFA Women’s World Cup match between Sweden and Chile in person while in France, aims to catalogue her own set of shining moments this fall. The sophomore is one of just seven major returners from a 2018 program that graduated 13 girls. Of the 13 goals and nine assists that return with the current group, Martz had six goals and seven assists of that output.
The learning curve for the 2019 version is where Martz’s experience should come in handy.
“Losing 13 seniors from last year is obviously hard, and a lot of new faces that may not trust since the season is just starting,” stated Martz. “You just have to go into the season open-armed and be there for your teammates. A lot of these girls played JV, or are freshmen, like I was last year, are just trying to fit in and make a name for themselves. I think being a leader and teammate for them, that will build the trust faster and help make us a better team.”
The unenviable graduation losses includes varsity head coach Phil Ummel, who resigned after finally getting the program back-to-back sectional championships after almost a decade of near misses. Some glaring holes are paramount in Tom Shields’ maiden voyage as new head coach, including a pair of All-State cleats to fill.
Martz will have some experience running with her up front with senior Olivia Craven, who potted three goals last season. Incoming freshman Caitlin Knepp brings speed to the wing and has the ability to put shots on target. Shields, who worked with the NorthWood junior varsity last season, will look to seniors Caroline Jenkins, Reagan Hartman, Ari Runge and Kaicee Egolf to harbor the midfield. Jenkins was a full-time starter at mid last season while the other three all were regular contributors to the offense off the bench.
“We have enough coming back with my seniors, and with Emma, that we should be OK offensively,” Shields said. “We have a lot of team speed and we have girls capable of putting the ball in the back of the net. We just need to find the right combos once we get started.”
Defensively, however, is where Shields will need his new alignment to step forward. Gone is All-State sweeper Kenzie Bergman, who kept All-State goalkeeper Kira Robinson less busy. The Panther defense a season ago pitched nine shutouts and allowed just 17 total goals for the season despite mounting a 9-7-3 season record. Robinson played 1,465 of the 1,510 minutes NorthWood accrued last year, to where junior Lili Lomeli will have to become a rock in between the pipes. Lomeli played just 45 total minutes, but has a saved penalty kick on her résumé, and has quick reflexes having played the hot corner in softball last spring.
Shields noted senior Morgan Conrad, juniors Brooke Roa and Brenin Knight and sophomore Lizzie Hilderbrandt will all anchor the defense. Freshman Ari Topping should come in right away and contribute to the Panther midfield.
“It’s not going to be too hard to fill these spots because mentally, we are starting fresh and everything is in front of them,” Shields said. “It’s not going to be too hard to get these girls to the next level. I’m confident these kids can compete with anyone on our schedule.”
NorthWood, which begins play this season at its new home at the Nappanee Soccer Complex at Wellfield Park, begins its 2019 campaign Tuesday, Aug. 20, against Mishawaka.