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Youthful Norwalk soccer hopes to contend

Mark Hazelwood • Aug 21, 2018 at 7:30 PM

NORWALK — As Michelle Sandor paused, her answer came a lot easier than she had expected.

The Norwalk girls soccer coach was asked to assess the preseason and first game of the season last Saturday — a 6-0 loss to Oak Harbor at home.

“We’re better than we thought we were going to be,” Sandor said. “I was coming into this year like, ‘oh man, we’re really going to struggle.’

“And we’re still going to struggle at times while making young mistakes,” she added. “But we have a lot of talent. It’s going to keep building.”

Indeed, there is no way of talking around it. A year ago, Norwalk went 13-5 overall — one win shy of the most in a single-season. The Truckers blitzed the Lake division of the Sandusky Bay Conference, outscoring eight opponents by a 50-1 margin.

Norwalk won the league title — the only in its history since the program started in 1999 — as a result.

But among those gone from last season is Kaelyn Harkness, now at nearby NCAA Division II Tiffin University.

Harkness was a unanimous SBC Lake MOP choice after her 32 goals tied the program record for goals in a single season (Brooke Seitz, 2006). She finished with 77 career goals, third-most in program history. Her 22 assists are seventh.

Also graduated were All-SBC Lake first-team selections Maddie Diederick (midfielder), Kendall Bigler (forward) and Mara Jaworski (defender).

“It’s a completely different team,” Sandor said. “Practices are different. It’s a completely different mindset, so we just have to kind of roll with it and make the best out of it that we can.”

But the cupboard wasn’t left completely bare for Norwalk, which blanked Port Clinton, 4-0, on Monday for its first win of the season. Though there are just three seniors, one of them is midfielder Coley Branum, also an All-SBC Lake first-team choice in 2017. The other two seniors are Michaela Rush and Taleigh Cook.

Junior Quinn Jaworski was second team Lake as a defender. Maggie Seiler is the only other junior on the roster, giving Sandor just five players in the upper two grades.

That gives the opportunity for many three- and four-year players to develop among 17 freshmen and sophomores on the roster.

“I think even though we’re not as talented of a team, we have a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of kids who want to work hard and get better,” Sandor said. “So that alone will make things fun.”

There are nine sophomores on the roster this season. That includes Makaila White, playing soccer for the first time in her life — as the starting goal keeper.

Other sophomores include Kara Mosser, Avery Dumbeck, Gwen Olcott, Brenna Burras, Kayla Cring, Elena Barber, Elise Zieber and Celina Warner.

There are four freshmen: Lana Oglesby, Sydney Fox, Allie Steffanni and Nyah Daniels.

Allie started for us on Saturday, and Lana is going to get some good time for us,” Sandor said. “Elise is up from the JV team and is among the players who have really improved since the offseason.

“Nyah will be a great threat for her if we can get her to the goal,” she added. “She’s great at getting past people, so we’re going to keep working on that with her. Makaila has been playing awesome. That has been a great addition — she has really stepped up for us.”

Even with the roster turnover, Sandor isn’t budging from her team’s ability to contend against Clyde, Columbian, Perkins and Sandusky in the SBC Lake this fall.

There are big shoes to fill and expectation that is now there,” she said. “And I think we have a shot at it again — I don’t think we’re out of it. There will be some good competition out there, and the nice thing is we have a few games to get ready for that.

“We still have to go to Highland this week (tonight) — one of the top teams in the state,” Sandor added. “That might be another rough one, but we have some games before we hit league play that I think will be good to give us time to work on some of these young player mistakes that we’re working on and making now.”

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