WRIGHT CITY - Melina Campbell “freaked out.”
While there was a lot of excited students when word got out the Wildcats were forming a girls soccer program, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more fired up than Campbell.
The now senior played soccer year-round growing up in Hillsboro, Ill., and arrived new to Wright City her freshman year with hopes of making the school’s team.
Problem was it didn’t exist. Never had.
And that didn’t go over very well with her.
“I cried,” Campbell said. “I told my mom, ‘you just had to move me to the one place that doesn’t have a soccer team.’”
It’s all good now though.
Wright City officially has one. It’s coached by Devin Raney.
A 2006 Hazelwood Central graduate and soccer lifer, Raney “jumped on board right away” when the opportunity came up, and players came out in large numbers, almost 40, for the first practice two and a half weeks ago.
Raney’s big challenge has been finding a way to create cohesion for a group with some on polar opposite ends of the experience spectrum.
“We have girls who’ve grown up with the game and play club and we have some that this is the first time they’ve kicked a soccer ball,” he said. “So there’s a wide range but they’re all coming along real well.”
It also helps when those a little more seasoned are wiling to lend a helping hand and catch up those who aren’t quite up to speed.
“Everyone’s working hard and that’s all we can ask for,” Campbell said. “We’re a team. We’re going to win as a team and we’re going to lose as a team. We’re all together.”
The Wildcats, who play home games on the football field, broke ground on their campaign Tuesday, hosting a jamboree where they went up against Elsberry and Winfield in exhibition contests.
Wright City probably couldn’t have asked for better as it came away with a pair of shutout victories, blanking the Indians 2-0 and the Warriors 1-0 with three different players supplying the offense on a cold and rainy evening.
Midfielder Hannah Kendal scored the first-ever goal in program history early in the opening game when a shot ricocheted off the Elsberry goalie and Kendal hammered home the rebound.
Forward Alexus Bales provided an insurance score and while Wildcat keeper Kelsey Capstick didn’t see a ton of shots, she stopped the ones that came her way and kept Elsberry off the scoreboard.
Midfielder Elizabeth Lopez scored the lone goal of the second game versus Winfield. Sara Deane got the start in net and posted a shutout of her own.
Both goalies owed some credit to the defense for helping them keep clean sheets.
Sweepers Campbell and Lilly Sargent shaped the spine of the Wildcats’ D and were usually in the right spots to clear dangerous ball, while contributing to the team’s buildup play.
The results of Tuesday’s jamboree were encouraging signs as Wright City prepares for its regular season opener next Thursday when it visits Fulton. The Hornets are a possible postseason opponent as both teams are in Class 2 District 8, along with Mexico and Southern Boone.
Raney believes the Wildcats have the potential to open some eyes in their first season.
“The big thing is that we keep interest up and that the girls are having fun,” Raney said. “But I also want to win. I’m competitive and every one of these girls is competitive. We’re hoping to get as many wins as possible and maybe shock some people along the way.”
Though it’s just for a year, Campbell is grateful to finally have a chance to play high school soccer. It seemed in jeopardy a few months ago when her arm ended up in a cast after breaking it early in the basketball season.
Fortunately, the injury healed quickly.
“Coach would joke with me about how you don’t need your arms to play soccer,” Campbell said. “Even if I still had the cast, I don’t think there’s a doubt I’d be out here. I’ve been pushing for this and waiting for this since I got to Wright City. This is a big deal for me and my teammates.”