Last year, a full corps of returning midfielders helped lead Lady Liberator soccer to its fourth consecutive district championship.
This year, two of the four — accomplished seniors Rheagan Hancock and Paige Martin — have graduated, and a third former starter, Hailey Taylor, is out with an injury.
But, don’t look for Bolivar coach Steve Fast to call it a rebuilding year.
“We’ve got a good formula,” Fast said. “They’ve won four district championships in a row, and we’re gunning for No. 5.”
Dominant midfielder Lexi Berry will return for the Lady Liberators.
“We want to try to keep Lexi on the outside,” he said. “She loves that spot, and she’s effective there.”
Fast said he also anticipates starting senior Annie vanHoornbeek, who played some last year, but also spent time off the pitch with injuries.
Junior Megan Roberts is also an option, he said.
“We’re still trying to determine the other starter,” he said. “We don’t want to change our scheme.”
Sophomore forward London Wilson may also drop back to the midfield at times to shore up gaps, he said. The team wants to keep returner Emme Hall up front, he added.
Defensively, the Lady Liberators are even more formidable.
Three of the team’s four defenders make a return — seniors Maude Henenburg, Aurora Fox and Drury University signee Ashtynn Russell.
They’re flanked by sophomore goalkeeper Allison Butler, who protected the net last year as a freshman.
Fast said the team played a practice match earlier this month, and the defensive bond already built was impressive.
“Our defenders, they know what to do,” Fast said. “They’ve played together four years and started last year as a group. You could just sense that they were just connecting. They’re going to be tough to score on.”
Butler, returning with a year of experience, has already visibly improved, Fast said.
“She’s progressed,” Fast said. “She’s got athleticism, and she can make that great save when needed.”
But Hancock and Martin’s impact on the team stretched beyond the soccer field, Fast said, meaning he’s had to look for new leaders to help keep the team strong from within.
“For the verbal leadership, we’re really looking to Annie (vanHoornbeek),” Fast said. “She’s vocal and positive. When we’re looking for someone to set an example of how to work hard, I want the girls to see Lexi (Berry) and Megan (Roberts). They never quit. There’s just no stopping them. They’ll keep everybody moving and going and working hard.”
The Lady Liberators start their season against Camdenton at home at 6 p.m. Friday, March 20.