By Mark Parker

COLUMBIA CITY – Columbia City’s girls soccer team begins this season with a different approach than in years past.

In the past, the Eagles drove the ball down the field, looking for a breakaway and a direct path to the goal. This season, the emphasis is on efficiency and ball-handling, and patience to work for the open shot.

“Our focus this year will be to play more possession soccer,” Columbia City head coach Mike Cotter said. “Instead of the direct game, we want to possess the ball — work for our shots and work for more open shots. We want to take greater advantage of our scoring opportunities.”

The team has three seniors in the top half of the formation.

“Those girls know we have to score to win,” Cotter said. “That is going to be our focus this year — getting the right shot and taking it when it presents itself.”

The Eagles will look for leadership from four seniors, with three of them playing and one injured. Senior goalkeeper Gabby Fry will miss the entire season due to an injury, leaving Adrienne Klefecker, Mary Cotter and Skye Roberts as the returnees with a majority of varsity playing time. Cotter pointed out Roberts as a leader “from the get-go.”

“We need for Mary and Adrienne to step it up and be not only leaders, but more positive examples of how we want to take it to the opponent, of our mentality and not just hanging out,” Cotter said.

The Eagles are also looking for contributions from some of this year’s newcomers.

“We have five freshmen this year,” Cotter said. “Maddie Straub is going to be one that fills a gap for us on the back line. She is pretty strong. All of them are going to be able to play at one time or another. Grace Schaekel, Kella Dillon on the outside is very fast, and Julia Hammel has a lot of soccer knowledge. She played a lot of club soccer growing up. They are all going to be beneficial to the squad at one point or another.”

One of the positives that Coach Cotter sees with this year’s Eagles is their knowledge of the game.

“This group is a bit more advanced as far as soccer-knowledge goes,” Cotter said. “I think we played five different formations through our five summer league games. We are working on being able to adapt to our opponent.”

The team’s base formation is one where it goes out and attack from the start, but Cotter has experimented with a 3-4-3, a 4-4-2 and a 4-1-4-1, and the team’s base is a 3-5-2 formation, “which gives us more of an offensive advantage rather than a defensive one,” Cotter said.

“They have adapted well, but of course, them being here and putting in the work all summer has been a big help’” Cotter said. “We will see how it all translates once the matches start. Our biggest hurdle is still between our ears. It isn’t our opponents, its having the mental attitude and the mental toughness to go out no matter who we are playing or what it says on their uniform that we are going to play the same way, no matter what. If we can get by that, we should be a solid squad.”

The Eagles’ schedule remains mostly the same, with the exception of the addition of a good Blackhawk Christian squad.

Columbia City will participate in one of the tougher sectional alignments with Bishop Dwenger, Concordia, Leo and Garrett.

The Eagles opened the regular season at Manchester on Aug. 19 in a varsity-only contest.