By Chris Chaney
The growing pains of high school sports don’t simply pertain to having a roster chalk-full of underclassmen, which the Bethel-Tate Lady Tigers have, but they also manifest some of those pains in the form of injuries, as well.
Combine those pains, growing and physical, and a climb towards a championship season make the mountain that much more difficult to scale.
“We’re a young team,” first-year head coach Ron Shook said. “We have six seniors and a few juniors, but the bulk of our team is sophomores and freshmen. That has obviously affected our performance.”
At 3-7 overall and 1-4 in the Southern Buckeye Conference’s American Division, the Lady Tigers don’t have the best record, but they also don’t own the worst. Bethel got off to a slow start to the season despite winning their opener against Felicity-Franklin, going on to lose their next four matches.
The main reason for the early-season skid was a defensive-minded team, Shook said.
“I’ve been having to adjust (the team)’s thinking into making them offensive-minded,” he said. “That took a few games, but we’ve started to turn it around and now we’re getting to the point where we’re getting 15, 18, 20 shots per game.”
Just when the team was getting the hang of pushing forward and being aggressive with the ball in the scoring area, the physical aspect of pain started to become a concern, ironically, for the defense.
“Now we’ve started piling up some injuries,” Shook explained. “My No. 1 goalkeeper is injured as well as my No. 2 goalkeeper. Hopefully neither one of them will be out more than a week. As long as that’s the case, we should be okay for the remainder of the season.”
Helping to pick up the pieces and keep Bethel afloat as their teammates recover from some injuries is a pair of seniors in Abbie Shinkle and Stephany Brannock who will shoulder most of the load in the absence of some of their normal running mates.
“Stephany has become a pretty good scorer,” Shook said. “She leads the team in goals and she also leads in chances. She’s getting in front of the goal and getting some shots off, some of which are pretty wicked.
“Abbie is our center mid and she’s gotten very aggressive in the middle winning a lot of balls that are turning into offensive chances. They’ve probably been my two most consistently good players this year.”
When Shinkle, Brannock and the other four seniors move on, Shook said his biggest concern with the program is the numbers. The varsity and junior varsity are sharing 28 players between the two of them, which Shook says is pretty difficult. If the growth continues like it has over the past few years, another 10-12 players should make the program much stronger.
Still with some work to do, those six seniors will have one more go around with the SBC American foes as they face those five rival schools over the last three weeks of the season.
Shook pointed to Amelia as the clear favorite in the league with New Richmond right behind them, however he sees the other three teams — Norwood, Western Brown and Goshen — as on the same playing field talent-wise as his Lady Tigers.
“I honestly think that even though some of the games are away — you wouldn’t think we wouldn’t play better against Norwood and Western Brown at their fields — but we’re getting better as a team and we could win a few more games this time through,” Shook said.
With those five games between Bethel and the sectional tournament, the goals remain the same.
“We wanted to have a better record than last year’s team,” Shook said of the 5-10-1 edition of the Lady Tigers. “We had so many injuries (last year) and this year’s injuries have cost us games, but they haven’t been the devastating type, so as far as that goes, we’re within reach of that goal.
“I feel like the team is playing better now than at the beginning of the year, so any goal that we set from here on out is achievable.”
Bethel will begin their final stretch of games with a road game at Amelia on Sept. 26 and will have games on the next two Tuesdays and Thursdays until sectional tournament play begins the following week, Oct. 14.