Aaron Colen, Sports Editor, Aaron.Colen@chickashanews.com
When the Bridge Creek High School girls soccer team was preparing for its first season, it was hard for the players and coaches to know what to expect.
But, with an experienced nucleus of club players who had been teammates for years, it wasn’t a typical inaugural season for the Lady Bobcats.
Of the 22 players on the roster, only five starters had any previous soccer experience. Fortunately for Bridge Creek, all five of those players were already teammates in club soccer, and two of them were ready to be leaders for the program.
Sophomore midfielder Autumn Gilchrest and sophomore forward Carly Hodge were the team captains, and play club soccer with Sheena Martin, Rachel Peterson and Sarah Hill. The bond between Gilchrest and Hodge goes back much further than that, however, as the two have played together since they were four years old.
“Since we’ve played with each other for a while, we know how to play together,” Hodge said. “We can read each other and know what our next move is going to be. It just works well along with the other players.”
Head coach Jason Sanders and assistant coach Kassy Byrd used that chemistry to the team’s advantage all season, moving Gilchrest to a midfielder position, where Sanders, also a basketball coach, described her as the team’s point guard.
Gilchrest led the team with eight assists, many of them to the team’s leading scorer, Hodge, who had 15 goals.
Gilchrest also had six goals of her own this year, third on the team behind Hill’s nine goals.
“I don’t think I can work with anyone else better than I can work with [Hodge],” Gilchrest said.
Hodge and Gilchrest have shown the potential to play in college, even though they are only sophomores, and will likely garner more interest from scouts over the next two seasons.
Gilchrest said she would love to play for Oklahoma State, since members of her family have attended the school in the past, but is open to other places that might have interest in her joining them.
It wasn’t just club experience that gave the Bridge Creek girls soccer team chemistry. Many of the players met in the offseason at Gilchrest’s home to practice and learn the basics of the sport. Gilchrest led workouts teaching the new players some of the basics of the sport, and Hodge attended some of the workouts as well to help out.
“It just kind of happened,” Gilchrest said of the unofficial workouts. “I was really excited when I found out we were going to have soccer next year, and some of the girls that played club got together and decided we should hold some practices for the girls who haven’t played before. Almost everyone showed up.”
Hodge said the workouts gave the team a head start once competitive games began.
“I’d help some people out and they’d get used to how things worked,” Hodge said. “They were more comfortable with what to do.
“I thought we’d have some trouble with the team with new players, but it actually turned out really good,” Hodge said. “They caught on really fast.”
It isn’t surprising that Gilchrest would take a leadership role with the newer players; she coaches an 8-and-under soccer team, which helped her develop teaching ability that came into use this season.
“It helps me learn the improvement with different ages and how people learn at different paces,” Gilchrest said. “Being able to understand some girls who haven’t played before. If I ever get frustrated, I have to remember they haven’t played before, and it helps me take a step back and relax and explain it to them.”
Bridge Creek finished 8-3, but wasn’t eligible for postseason play this year. OSSAA rules dictate that a new program isn’t placed in a district and eligible for the playoffs until the second year of its existence.
Even though they were playing with no hopes of a postseason or run at a championship, the Lady Bobcats didn’t let that affect their effort on the field.
“I think the girls still looked at it like a real year,” Gilchrest said. “They’re not as laid back as I’d expect them to be for not being able to go to state this year.”
Bridge Creek will graduate four seniors from this year’s team, and only had one junior. Most of the players, including the biggest contributors, were freshmen and sophomores, and Gilchrest and Hodge both have high expectations for next season.
“I think we’ll do really good in the coming year,” Hodge said. “We have some seniors leaving, but we have some new good players coming in from eighth grade that will help us get a fresh start.”
With a core of talented players, and leaders that are invested in developing that talent, Gilchrest sees her team has being able to compete for championships in the future.
“Since we are a young team and we are already developing, I think we can get to state next year,” Gilchrest said.