An exodus of defenders might have left the Prairie City-Monroe girls soccer team in a difficult position on one side of the field, but it's a completely different scenario on the other.
With 32 total girls out for this year's team and a majority of offensive starters returning, the Mustangs and coach Craig Naeve have one simple goal in mind going into tonight's season opener at Collins-Maxwell-Baxter.
"We're working to improve on last year and be over .500 this season," Naeve said. "Our senior captains provide some good leadership, and we have a lot of young talent fighting for positions. Barring any injuries or misfortune, we should reach that goal."
The Mustangs' senior leadership on and off the field, which included gathering the team for early fitness training, lies with captains Krisha Houseman, Damika DeVore and Lindsey Ritter. Houseman is the team's leading returning scorer, having notched five goals in the 2012 campaign. DeVore started 13 games last season and Ritter is the team's lone representative from Lynnville-Sully.
The remaining goal scorers from last season also return to the pitch this season. Junior Megan Winegar was second on the team with four goals, junior Jennafer Uitermarkt had two and sophomore Kennah Walters had one.
"Offensively I think we'll be better and score a lot more goals," Naeve said. "I'm not so concerned about fitness as I am about just being outdoors and spreading out."
Defense might be another story, however, as the Mustangs lost five players that at least saw action in all 16 games last season. Junior Taylor Davenport returns as a three-year starter in goal, but the rest of the defensive positions will largely be up for grabs by a cast of 22 players.
"Defense is still a big question for us after losing three of our best defenders," Naeve said. "It's just going to be a year of people playing new spots and us figuring out what will work."
Ten of those 22 players are freshmen, and of those 10, seven are shared athletes from Colfax-Mingo. Naeve has already pointed out Jessica Albright as one freshman that could make an immediate impact, but other than that, the field appears to be wide open for anyone that can hold onto a position.
PCM will open its season in the county against rival CMB today, but things pick up quickly after that. The Mustangs will take part in a tournament at Southeast Polk on Saturday where they will face Newton, Pella Christian and the host Rams. A six-game homestand awaits them in mid-April to early May, however, which could allow them to catch their breath after a whirlwind start to the season.
"The first part of our schedule is by far the toughest," Naeve said. "Nevada and Gilbert are easily the most powerful teams we play, but we like to compete against everybody and should be in every game."