The 2023 season opens as a series of challenges for Coach Katie Overbeck and her 2023 Mountain Lion soccer squad, precipitated by one question: How does a program recover/rebuild after losing 17 players to graduation in the past two years?
The simple answer lies in a youth movement, of course, which is where the Mountain Lions find themselves this year. The solution lies in the limited experience of number of young players, and building on that foundation.
That body of varsity experience is found on the 15-player roster, enough for a team, but limiting how the team can practice. Six seniors from last year were lost to graduation. Several from the underclasses thought to be looking for roster spots did not turn out this year and 75% of the varsity, 12 of the 15, are sophomores or younger, with fewer than a handful of seniors and juniors to call upon.
“We do have some good things to build off of from last year,” said Overbeck. “We want to keep that going. I’m also looking toward next year and building toward the numbers coming up. It’s great having a middle school program this year, but I sure would like to have enough bodies to have eleven on eleven practices for varsity.”
For the first time, Okanogan County school district programs will have girls’ soccer in grades six through eight, and the Liberty Bell program has a fairly robust turnout of 18 at that level. Kelly Grayum is the middle school coach. Overbeck has had to pull three eighth-graders, Elaine Walker, Clara Ramsay-George and Wiley Smith, up from the middle school list to fill in the varsity roster.
Filling the net
The first item on the position list is in the net. Veteran goalkeeper Ruby McCarthy is gone to graduation and the job is up for grabs at the moment. “We’re not ready to announce who will be our goalie yet,” Overbeck said.
In front of the net, the defense is going to be the biggest question this year. With light numbers on the roster this year, there will be some youth out on the field. As of the end of week two, those spots were also somewhat unclear.
Some names to look for on the back side of the field include Lilly Belcher, Gabby Studen, Lucy Collier and first-year player Pepper Treise. Marit Nelson will show up from the midfield position in the defensive alignment and Overbeck expects to use Olive Frady, another sophomore, in the role of an attacking defender.
Nelson returns after making the All-League list in her freshman year and will be the equivalent of a football two-way player from the center. She isn’t shy about taking shots and has had a number of multiple-goal matches in her two-year career so far, including several “hat tricks.”
“Marit has a strong leg and can hit the goal from outside 18 yards, which makes her a good choice to play the midfield area and attack from there,” said Overbeck. She’s also a versatile athlete and a quick study who can adapt to any position on the pitch. Nelson has shown leadership through her passion for the game and an infectious personality.
Overbeck also pointed to senior Gabby Studen, who is emerging this fall as a leader in practice. “She’s kind of taking on the mother hen role at practice and the girls respond to her,” said the coach. Studen is the only senior listed on the 2023 roster.
On the attack
When Liberty Bell has the ball on the attack, expect to see Frady and Studen also moving it around and looking for shot opportunities. Both can handle the ball and are capable passers. Overbeck was also rather non-committal on the specific offensive alignment. “We still have some work to do with the offense, too,” she said.
Junior Cassidy Jones-Mowen returns after her rookie year in soccer last year and brings with her a mental toughness that comes from playing catcher in spring softball and qualifying for state in wrestling last winter. This is only her second year on the pitch, her mental approach to sports in general and her athletic ability serve her well.
The only other junior currently on the list is Anna Liebe, new to the Mountain Lion roster this year. Sophomores Josslyn Olsonawski and track and field sprinter Audrey Roman, and freshman Adelina Humling, have all been contributors in practice. They will add some quickness to the Mountain Lion lineup, and should get plenty of on-field experience this season.
The Mountain Lions open the season on Wednesday, Sept. 13, at Omak. Their first home match is set for Tuesday, Sept. 19, on the pitch at Mountain Lion Stadium, kickoff at 4:30 p.m. Pateros will be the opponent. The two teams split last year’s matches.
Mountain Lion miscellany
• In last week’s fall preview of Mountain Lion volleyball we misspelled Ava Schade’s first name. As well, we identified Kimber Faulkner as a volunteer coach, which is incorrect. Faulkner is an off-season club coach and does not have an official capacity with the Liberty Bell program. Beth Blank is the head coach, Stephanie Mitchell is the varsity assistant coach and Brandy Woras is the JV coach.
• Activities Director Michael Wilbur is reporting, as of fall practice first week, 197 students including middle school are registered for fall sports. Approximate numbers in the middle school grades include 25 in football, 20 in volleyball, 47 in cross country and another 20 or so in girls’ soccer. High school numbers, also approximate, include nearly 20 in volleyball, 15 in cross country, 14 in girls’ soccer, 24 in football and 15-ish in cross country.
• Again this year, the Methow Valley School District has stuck to its post-COVID policies of no pay-to-play fees for student athletes and, likewise, no admission fees for attendance at Liberty Bell sport events.