This is a different kind of season for Cathedral High School girls soccer.
Perennially one of Indiana’s top programs, a normal Irish girls soccer season means a veteran team of senior leaders and hard-earned postseason experience.
The difference in 2021? The Irish are young – but according to head coach Marc Behringer, what remains constant is the Irish are very talented, and therefore optimistic that the season can end with a deep run in the state tournament.
“The coaching staff really does feel like this team is pretty good,” Behringer said. “The significant factor to overcome is the inexperience of the young players. They’re getting a ton of experience, and we’re banking that by the end of the season they will be much more like upperclassmen than freshmen.”
The Irish, state champions in 2008, 2010 and 2019 – and the state Class 2A runners-up with a 10-7-3 record last season – began the 2021 season 3-1-4. They were No. 3 in the Indiana Soccer Coaches Association Class 2A poll as of September 7.
The Irish feature 11 freshmen and sophomores among their Top 20 players, with their lone loss through eight games coming to Class 3A No. 1-ranked Noblesville in the season opener.
“That’s a lot,” Behringer said of the underclassmen. “We always try to have some young players coming up. But the last two classes have been really strong. As a result, they have pushed for a lot of time.”
Even with the large number of underclassmen, Behringer said a key will be a senior class that features five varsity players – and five strong leaders – that have allowed the talented underclassmen to perform at a high level.
“Kudos to our older players for sure, and our young players have stepped up,” Behringer said. “With that many freshmen and sophomores, it takes a special group to understand what’s best for the team.”
The five varsity seniors:
*Forward Gracie Jarrett, an unselfish player who Behringer called “soldier” and who puts constant pressure on the opposition.
*Forward Elle Lewis, a versatile player who has played forward and defensive midfield and who is playing attack this season. “They’re mature players,” Behringer said of Jarrett and Lewis. “They do an incredible amount of unselfish work together.”
*Wingback Elle Maher, who has played a key role since moving into the starting lineup on the 2018 state championship team as a freshman. “She gives us a lot of athleticism and quickness and hard-nosed defending,” Behringer said. “She has done that so well for four years.”
*Attack/midfield Lauren Caldwell. “A lot of our transition into the attack runs through Lauren,” Behringer said. “If we get good goal-scoring opportunities, at least half of the time it has something to do with Lauren.”
*Wingback/wing attack Meredith Ward. “It’s really nice to be able to have a player that versatile,” Behringer said. “We can plug her in in those spots to give us good minutes when we have an injury or someone needs a break.”
Seven underclassmen also started or played key roles through eight games, a group that includes sophomore defenders Catherine Cline and Libby Lewis, who were mainstays as freshmen last season.
“There probably aren’t two more seasoned sophomores in the state,” Behringer said. “Obviously as defenders, we put a lot of trust in them. They have done a fantastic job.”
Sophomore attacks Amyah Usher and Karstyn Ward also will be key, along with a slew of freshman starters. Junior goaltender Kate Phillips remains one of the state’s top players at her position.
“She continues to play very well, and to give us opportunities in games to stay in game or to win simply by coming up with incredible saves on a fairly regular basis,” Behringer said of Phillips.
Behringer said those underclassmen should gain experience playing against one of the state’s toughest schedule – a schedule that includes games at Brebuef, Chatard, North Central, Fishers, Avon, Brownsburg, Zionsville and Westfield – and therefore should be “pretty battle-tested” by the postseason.
“We’ve got a pretty good rotation and a lot of players who are getting playing time,” she said. “I think we’re going to be in pretty good shape when we get to the postseason. It’s like anything else: injuries can derail anything and COVID[-19] is always looming as a menace, but as far as things we can control, the coaches feel like the girls are on track.
“We kind of have a recipe for how we go through a season and what we can accomplish. This team seems to be right on time with what we’re hoping they’re able to do.”