Jasper girls to rely on many pieces

Photo by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Senior Olivia Byrd and Jasper are set to open the 2021 girls soccer season Aug. 14 at home against Bloomington South.


JASPER — Michael Donato isn’t one for prognosticating, and the Jasper girls soccer coach has refrained from saying he thinks the Wildcats will win their fourth sectional championship in five seasons this year — or possibly go further than that.

“I never set goals based on a sectional title or a regional anything like that,” Donato said. “I just can’t do that.”

Yet, the Wildcats return many players from the 2020 squad that lost seven out of its first nine games, only to peak at the right time, win their sectional and fall one game short of making it to semi-state. They finished the season at 8-10-1 with a 1-0 loss to Silver Creek in the regional championship.

He knew there were tougher teams last year because Jasper rejoined the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference, so this year's team knows what they're getting into, and he anticipates they'll be more prepared. Donato thinks it's good to lose some games against tough teams as opposed to winning easier games, and he's expecting the beginning of the year to be "extremely difficult."

"The group of juniors of that we have this year get along very well with each other," he said. "That helps a bunch. So, they'll be supportive towards each other. The overall feel of the team should be good as far as the camaraderie."

The Wildcats have some juniors who got prominent time as underclassmen. There's forward Reagan Fortwendel and midfielder Merin Buck. Donato is also fond of defender Jasmin Mehringer, whom he can see some improvements from heading into the season.

"I'm seeing (the) leadership role that she's taking on and what she's saying during training sessions as far as encouragement as well as direction," Donato said of Mehringer. "She did that last year a bit, but she was a sophomore playing up on the varsity, and I think just the fact she's a junior, that I think she's even more comfortable doing that."

Things are bound to be different on the offensive end this year. The Wildcats relied so heavily on Kara Krueger, and her play in the postseason helped the team get as far as they did. She proved critical in the sectional championship with a hat trick against Vincennes Lincoln, and scored both goals against Heritage Hills in the regional tournament.

Donato mentioned sophomore Lilly Rasche as having a nice finish and a great eye for going to the goal, but he knows it won't be easy to fill the void that Krueger left.

"We're obviously not going to have one person that will completely take over that role, and I think a lot of our scoring this year — it's going to be shared across the front line," he said. "Reagan Fortwendel — she played on the outside for us last year, most likely same this year. We need to get her involved in more scoring opportunities.

"Lilly, like I mentioned, she'll be definitely there for scoring," Donato continued. "But, we have to be thinking about how do we use the players for building combinations."

He mentioned Buck, sophomore Emily Friend and senior Ava Harmon as players to use in the midfield this year. Donato praised Harmon for being smart and level-headed in that position, the three of them combine to have a lot of soccer intelligence could make for a good core in the midfield. He hailed Mehringer for the mind she has that she could also into the midfield, too, after playing back last year.

Donato said they'll work a lot with junior Michelle Ondiek on the outside when it comes to the forward position, citing the speed that she has. And he'll try to figure out how to use her speed to the team's benefit.

Senior Maggie Hubster got time in goal last year for the first time since seventh grade, and Donato noted she'll be the primary keeper again this year.

"The biggest thing that Maggie brings to that position, honestly, is her personality — it really is," he said. "Having an optimistic goalkeeper in the back — they're kind of that leader back there — it changes the whole mentality and the whole feel of the back line. Overall, she has a really good vibe out there on the field with all the players."

There are some players who played junior varsity last year who could defend this year, but Donato believes that everybody attacks and everybody defends. It's all about having the strongest players out there, and if it means taking a ton of would-be midfielders and converting them, he'll do that.

The Wildcats are scheduled to have their Black and Gold Scrimmage on Aug. 10, and another one at Washington two days later. The season is set to open Aug. 14 at home against Bloomington South.

"Honestly, I'm anticipating we're going to struggle with Bloomington South — we always do," Donato. "Hopefully, we do better, but I talk it up. We play a hard team the first game of the season and that's how it is. We take that, see where we need to improve and go with it."

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