By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Having 27 players out for soccer makes Woodrow Wilson’s Paulette Umberger a happy coach.
“Our intensity is up. Girls who played last year are being pushed by new people, and they all want to play,” Umberger said. “And we’ll actually have a JV team.”
Numbers were a bit down last season, but the Flying Eagles compiled a 12-8 mark — a definite improvement over the previous season’s 6-7-2.
Woodrow, a 1-0 loser to Princeton in the sectionals, lost just one player to graduation, first-team All-State defender Savannah Barajas.
Four seniors return, including second-team All-State midfielder Sarah Akers. Once one of the top defenders in the state, Akers moved to the middle of the field last September and excelled as a playmaker and scorer.
“Sarah is the anchor for the team. She’s always focused,” Umberger said. “She distributes the ball well and has a great kick.”
A good shot anywhere from within 30 yards, Akers is the team specialist for direct and indirect kicks.
And, she can still play tough defense when necessary.
“Sarah does everything well,” Umberger said. “She hopes to play at the next level.”
Like Akers, forward-wing Elizabeth Gramling is a four-year starter. She spent the offseason running and has picked up some speed. Look for more scoring from her this season.
“Elizabeth is another player who gives 100 percent when on the field,” Umberger said.
Goalkeeper Emily Lane began starting as a sophomore. A leader on the field, she talks to the defense and keeps everyone pumped up.
Forward Kelci Keel started several games but battled injuries. She has also picked up her speed and is expected to contribute to the scoring.
Junior Shannon Barajas will assist Akers in the midfield. She’s played with a team out of Charleston and comes back with better skills and in the best shape she’s ever been in.
Woodrow’s defense looks solid behind the play of four juniors.
“Tanner Trostle, Tyla Wimbish and Sarah Mullins are back, and they’re really strong on defense,” Umberger said. “I’m looking forward to them stepping up.”
Kaitlin Hargis, who transferred from Shady Spring, is a good fit with the team.
The youngsters show a lot of potential. Four of five sophomores have experience, including returning forward Rebecca Cook, who has excellent speed and runs and passes well. Left wing Kaylee Hilliard has a tremendous left foot, while Jada Watts, a track standout, is fast and has worked on her skills.
Leah England, a transfer from Fayetteville, adds depth at midfielder. Kristian Deemer, who played a short time for the Flying Eagles before transferring to Shady Spring last year, has returned, and is an excellent backup in goal for Lane.
Six freshmen — utility player Kerrigan Johnson, forward Breanna Cecil, midfielder Rachel Quattrone and defenders Kyle Johnson and Kaitlyn Varney —are anxious to play and will keep the older players on their toes.
“Our chemistry is really good in the preseason. They practice well and talk well,” Umberger said. “Everyone is cooperative at playing where we tell them to play.
“I’m real excited, and the kids want to put their uniforms on and get to play.”
Woodrow will open its season with a 6 p.m. game Friday at Ripley, followed by an 11 a.m. game Saturday at Parkersburg.
— E-mail: dstillwell