“You grow so much,” then-senior Abeth Okall said of the Ignacio High School soccer experience after a season-ending loss at Pagosa Springs back in 2012, “but you have to be dedicated. Our program builds character, which is good. So, even if you’re not winning, your character is getting so strong and you know how to deal with a lot of stuff. We don’t take anything for granted.”
Behind then-junior Destinee Lucero’s hat trick and a goal from then-senior Carly Barborinas, the Bobcats hosted and defeated Center 4-1 on April 10 of that season, still the most recent win or draw for a program riding a luckless 83-match losing streak that heads into 2019 with plenty of energy and no illusions.
And though existence in the brutal 3A/2A Southwestern League will again be hellacious at times, there’s no “abandon all hope, ye who enter here” verbiage inscribed above second-year coach Alisha Gullion’s classroom door.
“The week before practice, I had girls popping into my room going, ‘Five more days ’til practice. Four more days ’til practice,’” she said Tuesday evening. “So there’s a general air. They’re very, very excited to just get back out onto the field, capitalize on last year.”
Specifically, its final two outings – an 8-1 loss at 3A Montezuma-Cortez and an 8-3 loss at 2A Del Norte the next morning – to conclude a campaign which saw 2A Ignacio play the most matches (15) of any Bobcats team in at least 10 years, but which saw enthusiasm prevail as the players strode back to the bus for the last time.
“We have about 23 girls out on the team so far, lots of returners from last year, which is great, and a handful of new girls,” said Gullion, who took the team’s helm in 2018 from one-year predecessor Daniel Sanchez.
Unfortunately, senior Lauren Gram, IHS’ top goal-scorer (3) and co-captain last spring, likely won’t be among them, as she will turn her attention to her primary pursuit of dance. Gullion will turn to sophomore goalkeeper Rylee Pearson, sophomore forward Caitlyn Chapman and senior midfielder Briana Duran as her seniors.
“I really think those three are going to be great leaders for the team,” Gullion said.
Having netted her first two prep goals in the aforementioned five-goal defeat at Del Norte, sophomore Abbi Barthel returns as the Bobcats’ top offensive threat, giving Gullion a core of four around which she and returning assistant coach Jessica Bassett can mold this year’s roster, which also includes returning juniors Brianna Henderson, Santana Edd and Autumn Smith, plus sophomores Amanda Henderson and Jazmin Carmenoros.
“Definitely my first priority is making sure that we’re a team, that we all understand each other and know each other well and that we’re comfortable working with one another,” Gullion said. “That was one of the biggest things last year that we built, was that close team aspect. We’ve also been focusing a lot on conditioning, of course, trying to get in shape and just getting comfortable working with the ball again.”
At present, Ignacio’s season is slated to commence 4 p.m. Tuesday at Montezuma-Cortez, with their pair versus Center (April 6 away, April 13 home) also a prime focus. IHS lost both matches against the Vikings last year by 1-0 results.
Gullion said she is working to reschedule the season-opener because of a conflict with a band and choir concert the same night. Should the March 12 clash with Montezuma-Cortez be rescheduled, IHS will likely begin play at 11 a.m. March 16 at home versus 2A SWL force Crested Butte Community School.
“We built a great, solid foundation last year,” said Gullion, “and this year I’m just really excited to capitalize on that.”