The Fairfield High School girls soccer team hopes to defend its Greater Miami Conference title this season, but might be willing to sacrifice that if it means a chance to achieve a bigger goal.
Coach Patrick O’Leary said his Indians are talented enough this season to make a deep postseason run, and their focus is on the ultimate prize of a state title.
»RELATED: Tuesday’s high school roundup
»RELATED: Tuesday’s high school scoreboard
Following an unbeaten finish in the GMC last year, Fairfield fell to Loveland in the Division I regional semifinals, but the Indians returned the bulk of their roster and now view the competitive GMC slate as the preparation for the long haul ahead.
Fairfield (5-0, 1-0 GMC) opened conference play last week with a 9-0 win over Princeton and now sets to host Colerain (3-1-1, 1-0) on Thursday.
“When we lost against Loveland last year, we were devastated,” O’Leary said. “We were playing our best soccer at that time and just came up short, so coming into this season we expected to take where we left off and continue to improve. Expectations are really high. This year is different because they believe in themselves because getting to that point was hard last year. They want to continue to improve and ultimately want to see that state championship game.”
The Indians overcame adversity last year after losing three players to season-ending knee injuries. They went 8-0-1 in the GMC to win their first outright title since 2011-12.
This year, they returned all but three starters and the roster is loaded top to bottom. The group is led by GMC Player of the Year Alexis Goins (six goals, two assists) and fellow seniors Morgan White (six goals, three assists) and Jaden Leist (two goals, one assist) on offense, and seniors Heather McGuire and Izzy Wissel on defense. Seniors Lily Welch and Josie Dattilo also are solid contributors in the middle.
“It starts with our defense,” Goins said. “We’ve been awesome in the back, stopping great players from getting forward, and then it goes right into me and the midfield possessing the ball and getting it up to the forwards, who are great finishing shots. The whole team is playing really well. We have a lot of strengths, and we have high expectations for ourselves, especially with so many of our players back from last year.”
Aside from experience, this Fairfield squad stands out above others because of its grit, O’Leary said. That’s what he believes ultimately will be the difference this year when it comes to success beyond the GMC and regular season.
“Coaches always talk about grit — it’s an uncoachable thing,” O’Leary said. “Some players have tenacity, and it’s different than just fouling all the time. Our girls just don’t want to lose. They are gritty. When we don’t have the ball, it’s how quick can we get it back and then speed in terms of how quickly we can do things. Sometimes it seems we’re running like chickens with our heads cut off, but that’s when we’re at our best.”
O’Leary said opponents are aware of Fairfield now, and the Indians have a target on their backs they didn’t have last year. That will make winning the conference title more challenging, but he likes the way his players are approaching things in practice leading up to each game.
Goins said the team was just out to prove people wrong last year when expectations weren’t high, so it was a pleasant surprise to win the title. Now being favored to repeat, Fairfield is trying to raise the bar.
“The sky is the limit for this team,” Goins said. “We obviously want to win the GMC again, which is going to be tough because all 10 teams are great, but I think we can get as far as state this year. We have an amazing team, and we know we have a chance at it if we just keep working hard and staying focused on our goals.”