While most would worry about moments missed on-the-field, it was the things off-the-field that Junction City girls’ soccer head coach Mitchell Dehoff says he and his team missed most when their 2020 season got canceled due to COVID-19.
“It was difficult for a lot of the girls,” Dehoff said. “Losing a high school sports season is never easy, you only get four of them as a high school athlete and I know as a former soccer player what it meant to me to play every season with my teammates. I think we saw it a lot in the summer when we came back out again, they were just happy to be together again. I think that was the biggest loss for us. Yeah, we lost the soccer side but we also lost the team feeling and the family support that we have throughout the spring.”
But, after a successful fall and winter sports season, the Blue Jay girls are confidently heading back out onto the field, ready to pick up where they left off over a year ago.
“It’s really nice,” Dehoff said. “And just knowing that we’ve been able to make it through a fall and winter sports season, everyone out here is just feeling a sense of hope right now that we’re back. We’re gonna have a soccer season this year. Our seniors, a pretty good group of seniors who’ve been here four years. They’re grateful that they get to have the opportunity to have their senior season. And it stinks to lose a year but we’re just out here working, trying to make up for it.”
Three-year senior starter Vittoria Benoit leads an older but less experienced bunch heading into the 2021 season along with several other senior leaders who will be key for the Blue Jays on the pitch this year.
“This will be her fourth year playing varsity for us,” Dehoff said of Benoit. “She would have started all four years if we played last year and we also have Jocelyn Luke. She’s going to be kind of a key leader on defense for us. Mindy Lechuga has been injured the last two years, she’s working back from ACL surgery earlier this fall. She’s going to be an important leader off the field while she’s rehabbing and hopefully, she can keep working and she can find some minutes her senior year.”
For Benoit, while the results on the field are important, her main goal is to help make the team a positive experience for everyone participating and be a leader in the growth process for the younger players on the team.
“Honestly I just want to have fun,” Benoit said. “I feel like as a team, it’d be nice to score a few goals against the higher-ranked teams, but at the end of the day I’m just here to meet new people and help make people better.”
Luke feels similarly and plans to help keep the “family” atmosphere of the team throughout the season.
“As a team. I just want us to have a good bond,” Luke said. “This team has probably had the best team or family type of feeling out of all the sports I’ve ever played and it’s just a really good environment and I want to keep improving it.”
In addition to the senior leaders, there are also several underclassmen that will really be making an impact including sophomores Lilly Duke who transferred into Junction City last season and sophomore Sophia Holloway who brings lots of experience outside of high school soccer and will be playing in the goal for the Lady Jays this season.
Junction City will play their annual Blue and White Scrimmage on March 23 before officially opening their season on the 25th at Al Simpler Stadium versus Manhattan.
“We just have to improve every game,” Dehoff said. “I think we play one of the harder schedules soccer-wise in the state of Kansas, outside of Johnson County. The Topeka schools are always good at soccer, Manhattan’s always good at soccer, we play some really tough competition and we’re just looking to compete and improve throughout the season and we’ll take what we can get.”