CHEBOYGAN – Head coach Tom Markham and the Cheboygan girls soccer team always have huge goals.
This year will be no different for Markham’s Chiefs, who are aiming to become the top team in the Northern Michigan Soccer League once again.
While the Chiefs captured the NMSL east division title last spring, they finished second in the overall standings behind outright champion McBain Northern Michigan Christian, which defeated Cheboygan in the only matchup between the two squads.
“Prior to this year, we would’ve had that crossover game, so we would’ve loved that crossover game last year, for sure, because, as you recall, we didn’t play too bad against McBain Northern Michigan Christian. They just had a big night,” said Markham, now in his fifth season as head coach. “Also looking back, we were right at the tail end of a grueling schedule. I think that was the third game of the week, right in the meat and potatoes of our season. We would’ve loved to have seen that team one more time. We’re going to try and be mindful of that going forward, that every game, every single one, especially conference games, are really important.”
So, does Markham believe his team is capable of being the top dog in the NMSL?
“That’s always one of our goals, absolutely, and we’ll get them there,” Markham said. “We’re going to be the best we can be. I think it’s really difficult to compare one season to another, because you’ve got different personnel, you’ve got different situations, different personalities, but that’s certainly one of our overall goals every year is to win our conference.”
Despite graduating a talented senior class from a year ago, the Chiefs return several seniors, led by all-state honorable mention Kenzie Burt, who will lead the way in the midfield.
“We’re very excited to have Kenzie back,” Markham said. “The kid is a hard worker, great skillset, and she has a good deal of soccer IQ, so I think she’ll be able to lead by example. She’ll be able to teach the less experienced players a lot. She’ll naturally be able to elevate the play and the mentality of those players around her. She’s a midfielder, a great creator, great vision, and strings a lot of good passes together.
“When you get a player like that, it’s special.”
Among those seniors joining Burt are striker Cassidy Jewell, one of the squad’s top returning scorers, as well as Callie Wanke, a solid goalkeeper, Anna Hudson, a defender, Lizzie Lopiccolo, a central midfielder, Lia Basanese, a striker, Leslie Basham, a winger, and Ella Pilon, a defender.
With as many seniors as he has on his squad, Markham said that experience will pay dividends down the road.
“I think it’s huge,” Markham said. “We’ve told the seniors, ‘You’ve got to lead, you’ve got to teach.’ Whenever you’re in a rebuilding year where you’ve got a lot of youthful players, really good athletes and decent soccer players, we’ve got to bring them along and get everybody, all 18-19, all of us, on the same page and going in the same direction.”
Looking to provide strength in the midfield are juniors Taylor Bent and Autumn Gingrich, while junior Bella Lail is a capable defender. Sophomores Ava and Addy Baldwin are also on the squad, with Ava being a central defender and Addy playing on the right wing. Others looking to make an impact are sophomore Samantha Harke, a versatile player, and freshman Jillian McKinley, who will see time in the midfield. As far as attackers, freshman forward Jaelyn Wheelock, who started the season on the junior varsity squad, will likely be a contributor at the varsity level. Rounding out the squad are juniors Ava Inglesbe (midfield/striker), Isabella Wilson (striker) and Penelope Balitz (striker).
“I think they’re strong in their willingness and their quest to get better,” Markham said of his team. “That’s one of the things we say in my program is, ‘Am I a better player? Am I a better person than I was yesterday?’ We’re going to work on this problem one rock at a time and slowly but surely get better at what we do, and it’ll look more and more like Cheboygan soccer is supposed to, and I think that’s a huge attribute.
“The girls, nor I, we’re not satisfied. We’re never fully satisfied. You never really can be in a competitive atmosphere. The one great attribute about this group is that they want to get better.”
Cheboygan played to a 0-0 draw in its season opener at Gladwin on Tuesday, April 4. Cheboygan's scheduled home opener against Brethren on Friday was postponed due to poor weather conditions.
This article originally appeared on Cheboygan Daily Tribune: Cheboygan girls soccer team brings back quality experience, features young talent