By Garth Shanklin
The Clermont Northeastern Lady Rockets had a decent season in 2015. The squad rolled to a 10-0 record in the Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference, and head coach Craig Yeager earned American Division Coach of the Year honors for his team’s play in the regular season.
Then the postseason began, and suddenly the Lady Rockets found their season coming to an abrupt end after a 3-0 loss to Fenwick in the opening round of the sectional tournament. The loss marked the third consecutive first-round exit for the Lady Rockets, with their last victory in the sectional tournament coming against Fayetteville in 2012.
According to Yeager, the 2015 Lady Rockets were balanced at all ends of the pitch.
“We did have a pretty balanced team with our offense, defense and midfield transitions,” Yeager said “We relied a lot on our senior leadership, I can only do so much from the sideline.”
The team lost several seniors from last year, four of which earned postseason honors from the SBAAC. Jordan Barker, McKenzie Cooper and Lexie Walker all were named first-team all-conference players or their performance.
However, the Lady Rockets get a pair of first-teamers back, with sophomore Kayla Nichols and senior Kayla Diekmann both returning this season, though the latter is still recovering from an injury suffered on the basketball court.
“I challenged Nichols to improve on both sides, right and left, over the break and so far she seems to be doing that pretty well,” Yeager said. “Diekmann is coming back from an injury, she got injured in basketball. She’s been working well with her physical therapist and she’s looking pretty good.”
One of the more important positions on the field will be manned by a newcomer to the Lady Rockets this season. Alyssa Williams will start in goal, and Yeager said she’s a perfect fit for the position.
“She’s pretty solid,” Yeager said. “She’s a prototypical goalie: tall, strong and aggressive.”
Other players expected to have solid seasons for CNE include Andrea Johnson, a senior who earned second-team all-conference honors in 2015. Yeager also said he expects Kassi Billow to perform well this season in a striker position along with Nichols and senior Lynzee Sullivan.
In addition to the returning players, several reserves from last season are going to have an expanded role in 2016, according to Yeager.
“We have a lot of folks coming back that were subs last year and who will be starting this year,” Yeager said. “ Getting them to fully understand the way I want them to play and having them adapt to that is important. Some of them aren’t used to it, getting them to play the type of offense and defensive forms I like to play and transition ball is sometimes challenging but they seem to be doing well with it, but I have to see it in league play.”
The team has one simple goal for the 2016 season, according to their coach.
“Making it past the first round of the tournament would be nice,” Yeager said. “That’d be pretty good.”
It’s a task easier said than done, however, and the coach outlined exactly how the Lady Rockets will achieve their goals.
“We need to win a lot more 50-50 balls, have better first touches and overall play a bit smarter,” Yeager said. “Maintaining form and shape is probably another key thing.”
The Lady Rockets begin their quest for a postseason victory with a home match against Williamsburg on Aug. 23 at 7 p.m.