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New coach Angie Nichols inherits blend of experience, youth, plus one key injury

PMG PHOTO: STEVE BRANDON - During practice at St. Helens High, Jenna Cullen (right) makes a short pass to Kylee Pedersen as Emmah Durant (far left) and Elizabeth Louie play defense.With seniors in key positions, this might be a season the St. Helens girls soccer team makes its presence felt in the Northwest Oregon Conference.

But key injuries and a coaching change mean there are questions for these Lions.

Angie Nichols is the new coach. She has coached youth soccer in Columbia County since 2005 and last season was the junior varsity coach for the St. Helens High girls. When former coach Simon Date relocated for work, Nichols was promoted to varsity coach.

"I knew what I wanted to do eventually to become a high school coach," Nichols said.

NIchols, who established a women's club soccer team while attending the U.S. Coast Guard Academy from 1998 to 1992 was prepared for at least one more season guiding the junior varsity. But when Date resigned, Nichols jumped at the chance to lead the program.

She inherits a roster with a mix of proven experience and younger players with significant competitive club soccer backgrounds and a Lions program coming off a 7-7-1 season (3-4 in the NWOC).

One challenge will be the notable absence of senior center back Kelsey Elliott. A first-team all-conference player as a junior, Elliott is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in club soccer. There is no timetable for her to be cleared to play, and it is possible she'll miss the entire high school season, according to Nichols.

Senior Amber Trenaman is the returning starter in goal. She will be backed up by sophomore Gabbie Alexander. Both are former field players who are good with their feet, a skill Nichols hopes to use to help her team play possession soccer and build attacks from the back.

"We've been working on keeping possession and building out of the back. That's something I've been stressing a lot," Nichols said.

Senior striker Mackenzie Carlson is a returning starter who was selected to the all-conference second team last season. Carlson plays on a FC Portland Elite Club National League Team and gives the Lions a strong finisher in front of the goal.

Sophomore Hannah Hayduk is a speedy forward who will pair with Carlson on top of the Lions' 4-4-2 formation. Hayduk has missed practice time with an injury and might not be healthy at the start of the season.

Also expected to play up front are seniors McKenna Goddington and Abby Castillo.

Senior Anessa Mandella and junior Maria Reardon are returning in central midfield spots, where each started games last season.

"They are very intense, aggressive players who are very good with the ball as well," Nichols said.

Three sophomores who played junior varsity last season also should contribute as midfielders. Jenna Cullen is the projected right-side starter, with Isabelle Mercier starting on the left wing. Sophomore Emmah Durant also figures to see action at midfield spots.

Until and unless Elliott can return, the defense will be led by sophomores. Central defenders Jezarel Ortiz and Kylee Pederson played varsity as freshmen, as did right back Gwen Daoust. Daoust is the only returning starter among the back four with Elliott out and received honorable mention on the all-conference team as a freshman.

Left back Ally Marsh played JV last season, as did Crystal Nehls, a junior expected to see action on the back line.

Defenders Daoust, Marsh, Ortiz and goalkeeper Alexander each has played for FC Portland in the ECNL.

Nichols said a senior foreign exchange student from Spain arrives next week and has expressed a desire to play soccer. The coach did not yet know that player's name or positional preference.

The schedule is another challenge for the Lions. St. Helens will play nine of its 14 games away from home.

The season kicks off on Sept. 5 with a home match against Franklin. Three of the seven Northwest Oregon Conference matches are at home, including an Oct. 39 rivalry game with Scappoose.

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