From a girls soccer team that tied for the Trico Division championship last season and lost in the Southwest District playoffs in a shootout, Columbia High returns nine starters.
Injuries, however, have set the Bruins back in their preparation for their Tuesday, Sept. 11, season, home and Trico Division opener against the Kalama Chinooks. So much so, that Kasenga said the starting lineup she envisioned may not make its debut until after the start of the season.
"With our early injuries, I am trying to keep a positive outlook," fourth-year Bruins Coach Amy Kasenga said. "We have all the talent to get to the state tournament if we can stay healthy."
Columbia was denied its first berth in the Class 1A state tournament last November when it lost to RockON (Mossyrock, Onalaska and Napavine), 3-2, in a shootout at Camas' Doc Harris Stadium. That followed by less than a week a shootout loss to La Center in a Trico playoff match that gave an automatic state berth to the winner.
As an outgrowth of those late-season losses, Kasenga said one of her major priorities this fall has been a focus on physical fitness.
"Last year we seemed to be simply exhausted when it came down to the final matches," she noted. "We need to be able to play three to four games in a week if necessary and have enough steam and strength to pull out the wins."
Columbia finished 10-7 in 2006 and placed eight players on the All-Trico First Team, including Trico offensive player of the year Shannon McNallan.
McNallan, a senior midfielder and the team's captain, led the Bruins in goal-scoring last season and again was one of their top playmakers.
Other key returning starters include 2006 All-Trico First Teamers Kaci Kreps (sr., defender), Naomi Halpern (sr., midfield/forward), Whitney Reynier (jr., midfield; led team in assists in 2006) and Dayan Garcia (jr., forward).
Kasenga also is hoping for strong contributions from senior forward Johanna Zimbelman, senior midfielder/forward Mackenzie VanLaar (who missed 2006 because of a back injury), junior midfielders Anna Anderson and Michelle McMillen, junior goalkeeper and first-year starter Claire Stevenson, sophomore forward Joanna Villa, sophomore defender Rebeka Childs, freshman midfielder Laurel Huth, and exchange student Ana Vilnes of Norway.
From this mix of players, Kasenga will try to find the right combinations that will bring out the best of what promises to be a potent CHS attack.
"Without a doubt, we have an offensive assault that could be very dangerous, with Zimbelman, Villa, Garcia, McNallan and Reynier," Kasenga said. "We also should have great speed on the outside with McMillen and Huth. Vilnes will also be a strong attacker for us."
Defensively, the Bruins plan to use a team defense approach that will draw on their midfielders' versatility "to fortify our defense," Kasenga said.
Key first tests for Columbia will come in the season's first eight days when it travels to RockON on Sept. 13 for a non-league rematch and to Trico rival La Center on Sept. 18.
Kasenga said she expects La Center, along with Columbia, to be among the teams contending for the 2007 Trico championship.
"Both teams return with key players," she noted, "yet I'm sure we won't have an easy match against any of our Trico opponents."