Columbia High's most veteran girls soccer team ever will try to get back to the state tournament in 2006.
Bruins Coach Amy Kasenga opened CHS's fourth training camp on Aug. 21 with a turnout that included 13 lettermen: four seniors, six juniors and three sophomores.
The team will try to put behind it last season's bitter disappointment of losing its final four matches (including three straight shutouts to end the season) to finish 9-7 overall and fall one victory short of qualifying for the district playoffs.
This season, the Bruins will be playing in the new SW Washington 1A League's Trico Division. (CHS competed in the Class 2A ranks in its first three seasons.) The six-team Trico also includes Stevenson, La Center, Kalama, Castle Rock and Rochester.
Columbia will play 10 division matches and four crossover matches this fall for a total of 14 regular-season matches.
Four of its first six matches will be played at home. Three of those matches will be Trico counters, giving the Bruins the chance to make an early case for divisional honors.
Kasenga, however, wasn't ready to look that far down the road. Her focus, she said, was on Columbia's first match of the season, not its title aspirations.
"The Trico mix is unknown," Kasenga noted. "What with injuries and new offenses, anything can happen. But if we play to our strengths, and we have many, we will be within the top."
The 2006 Bruins will be led by fourth-year starters Chelan (Chani) Weiler and Kelsey Kidd.
Columbia's offense, which averaged 3 goals a game in 2005, will feature Weiler (11 goals, 3 assists last season) up front in forward combinations with juniors Naomi Halpern (8 goals in '05) and Johanna Zimbelman.
"Our offense will benefit our heavily loaded midfield and [make up for] the loss of some key defensive players," Kasenga said.
Manning a solid midfield will be junior Shannon McNallan, one of the team's top playmakers and last season's leading goal scorer (12), senior Alison Kreiter and sophomore Whitney Reynier (4 goals in 2005).
CHS's defensive line will be anchored by Kidd (1.5 goals allowed per game, 3 shutouts in 2005), junior Mackenzie VanLaar and junior defender Kaci Kreps. (Another defender CHS was counting on, junior Donna Suarez, broke an ankle in practice Monday and will be sidelined three to six weeks.)
Kasenga also expects strong seasons from senior midfielder Eloise Zimbelman, and sophomore midfielders Anna Anderson and Michelle McMillen.
"Our offense requires complete teamwork, so impact players in 2006 will have to come from the entire team," CHS's coach said. "However, Reynier, McNallan, Weiler and Halpern will be very dangerous."
As should VanLaar, who scored four goals last season as a midfielder. In 2006, Kasenga said the versatile VanLaar will be assigned multiple tasks and "possibly become our most valuable asset in controlling the defensive line."
As a team, Kasenga noted, Columbia has exciting potential because of its deep experience and varied athletic abilities.
Moreover, CHS's coach hopes the hard lessons they learned in 2005 will help the Bruins avoid the late-season collapse that barred their return to the playoffs.
"We will be successful if we are confident in ourselves. We've lost some key players, but when the girls realize they still have strengths without them, we will excel," she said.
The Bruins opened the 2006 season on Tuesday with a Trico match at Kalama. When the regular season ends Oct. 26, they hope to be in a position to pursue their ultimate goal.
"Our expectations are to have fun, try some new offenses. If we have fun and play hard, then we'll be successful," Kasenga said, adding, "I definitely would like to see us in playoff contention."