Before the season started, Pine Creek girls’ soccer coach John Frederick had his players sit down and write a personal essay of sorts.
He told them to picture their end-of-the-year banquet. He asked: “What do you want your coaches to say about you? How do you want to be remembered? Do you want it to be about how many goals you scored, or do you want it to be about your character? ”
It’s part of something called “personal growth Mondays.” The Eagles start their weeks by spending 15 minutes focusing on things outside of soccer. Sometimes they read testimonials from high-level coaches and athletes, and sometimes they discuss ways to serve their community. Frederick and his staff want the Eagles to be as good off the field as they are on it. And that is a high bar.
“This might be the most talented group I’ve ever coached,” Frederick said.
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The Eagles have five seniors who will go on to play collegiate soccer, three of whom will do so at Division I level.
Pine Creek is 14-1 going into the postseason, with the lone loss coming in overtime to Colorado’s No. 1 team in 5A, Valor Christian. The success of the squad comes from a rare combination of elite talent, camaraderie and accountability. And it didn’t take long for the Eagles to realize that they had something special.
For Tess McConnellogue, a defender who will play at Kansas State next year, that moment came during indoor soccer in November.
“We started to get super close and we were linking up passes,” she said. “We started to get a feel for how everyone plays.”
Despite having a senior-laden group, the Eagles were not all familiar with each other on the field. Some played together as kids and then went on to different club teams, while others spent time honing their skills outside the high school scene.
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Players like goalkeeper Allyson Fischer, who played for the US Soccer Developmental Academy instead of playing for her high school team. Originally, Fischer was going to graduate early and prepare for her college career at Wyoming. Instead, she decided to play her first, and only, season of high school soccer.
“I really like the girls,” Fischer said of her teammates. “That is my favorite part about playing here. Having the people you go to school with be the people you play with, it just brings us that much closer together. ”
But, there is one thing Fischer doesn’t like about playing at Pine Creek.
“It sucks because I’m a senior,” she said with a smile. “I’ve made such good connections and I’m going to miss everyone.”
If Fischer and her teammates get their way, they’ll have much more soccer left together, as they eye a state championship.
As soon as the Eagles were knocked out of the playoffs last year by Rock Canyon, Isa Murdock remembers her team quickly shifting into thinking about the next season.
“They were really good, so we knew it was going to be a hard game,” she said. “But we ended up playing really well. So we knew we could make it further the next time. ”
Along with McConnellogue, Fischer and Murdock, four other seniors start for Pine Creek: Kayla Anderson, Callie Fuhr, Aubrey Kramer and Hannah Baumgardner.
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Sophomore Ava Amsden and freshman Sophie Redner have also made big contributions for the Eagles this season. And despite being a senior-dominated team, the camaraderie among players extends throughout the classes.
“There is a stereotype that the freshmen don’t get along with the seniors,” Baumgardner said. “But we as a senior class all got together and talked about how it felt when we were underclassmen. We wanted them to have the most welcoming experience. We want everyone to feel welcome and accepted. ”
That’s the kind of thing Frederick promotes on personal growth Mondays, and the kind of thing he wanted his players to write about in their essays to start the year. Baumgardner’s words are exactly the kind of answer he was looking for to the question: “How do you want to be remembered?”
Of course, a team can be remembered for multiple things. And after the character traits his team embodies, the Eagles also want to be remembered for winning a state championship.
That’s a goal Frederick has every season, and for this team, it’s attainable.
“We have elite athletes and elite talent. They bring a competitive attitude, ”he said. “It spreads and it is contagious. But what also makes this group special is that they’ve really bought into the idea that we are one. We are a team. ”
That team is Pine Creek. And as the postseason begins, Pine Creek is looking to be remembered.