WENATCHEE — The hopes are exponentially higher for the Wenatchee girls soccer team this season, and those expectations materialized almost immediately.
Last season, Wenatchee waited seven games before recording their first score of the season. This year, the Panthers tallied their first goal in the first half during their season-opening win against Enumclaw. They went on to win two more and record a non-league tie, jumping out to a 3-0-1 start and optimistically awaiting Big Nine play.
There’s an air of enthusiasm purveying the team’s makeup. Moral is high, practices are fun, but productive, and there’s a feeling of pride among players that hasn’t been present in the last few years.
“The energy’s definitely a lot different,” veteran goalkeeper Jackie Bollinger said. “It’s a positive environment, and I think it’s shown in our performance.”
Bollinger is part of a senior class that’s undergone two head coach changes. Now, under first-year coach John Springer, the Panthers feel a sense of stability that hasn’t been there the last couple of seasons.
“He’s really encouraging and he really emphasizes team,” senior forward Emily Rader said of the new coach. “So you feel like you can go to anyone on your team and talk to them. It’s a lot different from years past.”
Springer’s early impact on the team isn’t much of a surprise, though. The Seattle native spent seven years coaching Wenatchee Fire teams in age groups between U-12 and U-17 and has worked with several current Wenatchee players for several years, including a core of junior players he has been coaching for six years.
Springer’s long-standing rapport helped him win over a large percentage of the team, but his organized approach and enthusiasm send a clear message that he’s heavily invested in the program’s well-being.
Rader, who first met Springer last spring, was impressed with Springer’s highly structured summer program — something previous regimes lacked — and said a state berth seems like an obtainable goal.
“I do believe in the talent that these girls have, because I have coached many of them for a chunk of years,” Springer said. “So I do believe in their character and I know the talent they have, which certainly helped in my decision to apply.”
The Panthers haven’t had a winning season since 2007, but the new coaching staff and the fast start are early signs of a culture shift.
Olivia Doerr, a veteran midfielder whose played under the last three coaching staffs, has noticed higher attendance at games and more interest in the team among peers. Count the senior as one of many hopefuls buying into the new program: there are two state berths and Doerr is confident Wenatchee can clinch one of them.
While the Panthers did hit a skid after the fast start (they are in the midst of a three-game losing streak that includes a 3-2 defeat against undefeated Moses Lake), everybody seems to be on board — Springer perhaps more than anybody.
“I couldn’t be more pleased,” he said. “They’re buying in 100 percent.
“These girls are really hungry for coaching and for success. They’re starting to believe in themselves.”