The pieces are there for the Central High School girls soccer team.
The Warriors have the confidence, skill and chemistry needed to make a run at the Southwestern League title, and it helps to have Liana Bryant, arguably the best forward on this side of the Rockies.
But it remains to be seen if those pieces will fall into place.
“This is the year to win league. If we’re going to do it, we’re going to have to do it this year,” coach Doug Beach said. “(Last year) gave them a boost in confidence and they sure are playing with it. The confidence that they can win is a big difference from last year’s team.”
The Warriors (2-0) are picking up where they left off after winning a playoff game last season. The roster is mostly intact after losing two players to graduation and the returners are continuing to show growth.
The Warriors have outscored opponents 15-3 this season after a 3-1 win over Eagle Valley at Long Family Park on Tuesday.
Soccer is a team game, so it’s rare for one player to be the sole reason a team has success. There is more to the Warriors than Bryant, but they certainly wouldn’t have this SWL window open if not for her. Bryant, a senior forward, scored 23 of Central’s 30 goals last season and has already accounted for eight goals in two games.
“It’s good that we’ve had a few years playing together already,” Bryant said. “Our front line, we’ve played with each other for a couple of years. Like Emily Johnson, she knows where I want the ball and how I want the ball. Rhyan Mason, we’ve only played together since my sophomore year, but she knows how and where I want my balls.”
Bryant is the top scoring option for the Warriors thanks to her combination of speed, strength and smarts.
The other team knows she’s top dog and they still can’t stop her. Bryant scored twice on Tuesday and frequently used her breakaway speed to pull away from double teams.
Beach said the team is working on building up the rest of the front line so that Bryant is no longer double- and triple-teamed near the box. If the other Warriors’ forwards can keep pace with her, then ideally, two defenders will break off to cover and leave Bryant with a one-on-one.
“She’s so fast and she’s so strong,” Beach said. “People try to foul her and try to knock her down and they just can’t. She doesn’t fall down so they don’t call anything … Two people (today) were grabbing at her and trying to knock her down and she still got the shot off … We’ve been working on helping her. If we can give her options, we’re going to score.”
Her skills would be moot if not for the back line and goalkeeper Central boasts.
Beach said the team lacks a real vocal leader on the pitch and he’s molding defender Lauryn Spencer and goalkeeper Jasmine Hernandez to fit that role.
“They both know the game very well, they’re both talented and they both want to win,” Beach said. “Those three skills are important.”
Hernandez has a penchant for athletic saves when forwards leak through the defensive line. She had plenty on Tuesday that helped Central hang onto its lead.
“I’ve been working a lot on my footwork and communication. When it comes to the games, I’m doing more than the goalie part. I’m looking at the whole field and seeing what everyone else could be doing,” Hernandez said. “The girls, I see them playing more as a team. Last year, I feel like we lacked team play. We had the skill so we were able to get by (on that). But this year, we’re actually starting to talk and trust our teammates.”
The Warriors’ hot start comes with a grain of salt — it’s early. They went 3-5 last season in the Southwestern League and Beach said league play will provide a clearer picture of this team. The Warriors start league play on April 3 against Grand Junction, then host No. 10 Durango on April 7.
What bodes well for this Central team is its confidence.
“I don’t feel like there’s much we need to do differently (than last year),” Hernandez said. “If we move the ball around and switch our positions so they don’t know what we’re going to do, we’ll be able to let our skill do the work.”
Palisade 2, Steamboat Springs 1: The Bulldogs (2-0, 1-0 Western Slope League) opened WSL play with a win over the Sailors (0-1, 0-1) at Long Family Park on Tuesday.
Mia De Villegas Decker scored first for Palisade and Taylor Balding notched the go-ahead goal.