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Strong core of high school senior leaders, impressive newcomers foster strong hope

LON AUSTIN - Crook County soccer squad will be looking to a trio of seniors — from left, Lauren Papke, Grace Brooks and Emma Bales — to provide leadership and, hopefully, help the varsity squad find the win column this fall.

In recent years, the Crook County High School girls soccer team has struggled to win matches.

However, optimism abounds, as the team has a solid nucleus back and a good group of newcomers to the program.

"The freshmen coming into the program are more prepared than in the past, so it is showing that the youth program is getting better," said Crook County head coach Destanie Johnson.

Due to COVID, the team had two abbreviated seasons a year ago, a short six-week season in the fall, then a second spring season. The team finished the spring season with an 0-6 record, giving up 44 goals and not scoring a goal.

However, Johnson believes that the short turnaround between last year and the current fall season will help the team.

"I think it's going to benefit us," she said of the short time between season. "The upperclassmen have had that time to touch the ball and it's closer than it was previously. I'm really excited. We have a lot of new faces out and I think we are going to have a really great season."

The Cowgirls have just three seniors on the roster, but they are looking to those three for leadership.

"We do have a few leaders like Lauren Papke, Grace Brooks and Emma Bales, our seniors, who are guiding them and showing them what we want and expect," Johnson said.

Although the number of athletes is improving, the Cowgirls still do not have enough athletes to field a JV team, something that Johnson would like to see change.

"It's looking like we are going to have only one team, but we do have the most girls out that we have in about three seasons," she said. "We are just a few players shy, but we are absolutely still taking players."

Johnson is also pleased with the effort that she is seeing from the team.

"It's so great," she said. "They fit right in. We have always had a good team spirit. We've always had really good camaraderie. Collectively as a group, I think we are seeing athletes. They are just coming out and they are doing what is asked of them. They are not complaining and they are putting in the effort and time."

Will that translate to wins? Only time will tell, but the team is looking like they will be better than in recent seasons. In addition, with more talented freshmen than in past years, and a solid core of young players, the future looks strong.

"The number of underclassmen are a good base to work with," Johnson said. "We are building for the future."

The Cowgirls open their season on Thursday, Sept. 2, when they travel to Gresham to take on the Class 6A Centennial Eagles. The team will play their first home match on Tuesday, Sept. 7, when they take on the JV program from Caldera, Bend's newest high school, in a 5:30 p.m. game.

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