Season preview: Callaway girls soccer looks to make a deep playoff run in 2023
Published 10:00 am Thursday, January 26, 2023
The Callaway girls soccer team is on the precipice of kicking off their 2023 season and the Cavaliers are looking to build on a record breaking season a year ago.
In their first season under head coach Mike Petite, the girls set the school record in wins with 16 and only two losses.
“I asked the girls if that was a fluke or is that who we are,” Petite said. “We bring back so much experience. We graduated some really key players last year, but we have a really experienced group. I expect them to shoulder the load of heavier expectations.”
The next step is to make it even further in the playoffs this year after falling in the first round last season 2-1 to Dade County.
Everybody in the team wants to make a run this year, including juniors Kadence Leithleiter and Mary Kate Baswell both of whom say it is their main goal for this season while senior Raine Hunt thinks it is expected of them to improve on last year’s performance.
One of the main reasons the expectations are so high is the fact that the team is returning the majority of players from a season ago with only four players departing after the 2022 season.
The team will play in a 3-4-3 formation as they did a season ago.
Raine Hunt is locked into the starting role. The senior will be even more confident in goal after getting her first season under her belt as a junior.
“I’m daily nervous to start the season, but I know this team will have each other’s backs,” Hunt said.
This is only the second season Hunt has played soccer and she has grown tremendously since coming out a year ago. It was a successful first campaign for Hunt who was named to the DiVarsity All-State squad for her play.
“She’s stepped up last season in a big way,” Petite said. “You can tell the difference from last year to this year with the training she has been getting.”
There is not much depth behind Hunt, who is the true no. 1 keeper for the team with no competition on the roster.
Mya Lawton came into her own a season ago to be a rock in defense for the Cavaliers. She was miss consistent in the back for Callaway and was named to the all-region team for her efforts as a junior.
“She was a GACA All-Star, she had a chance to play in the All-American game but couldn’t make it,” Petite said. “It’s amazing because she only plays soccer during the school season. She’s a remarkable athlete, and she really bought into what we were doing last year.”
Lawton is going to have to be a steady voice at the back for a group that will have some fresh starters in 2023.
“Even though we lost familiar leadership from the seniors (last year), CC Bledsoe, Kate McAteer, Katherine Barnette, Raine Hunt, Emily Lindsey and I have stepped up to fill in those roles and we have all done a great job so far,” Lawton said.
The team graduated Chaple Butler, who was the other consistent presence in the back along with Mily Ulloa. Without those two players, it remains to be seen who plays alongside Lawton in defense.
CC Bledsoe and Rosa Gomez are two experienced players who could find themselves in the mix for a starting role this season.
Daynay Velasquez could see her role grow as one of the starting wingbacks along with Kaylie Flores who both figure to get some minutes. Senior Katherine Barnette comes into the team with the most experience playing wingback after transitioning from forward to the position a season ago. Junior Hismary Composeco could also see some minutes at wingback.
The position requires a ton of energy running up and down the field and will see a lot of rotation early in the season as the team navigates through early season fitness.
“When we rotate these girls in and out, I don’t think we lose a whole lot,” Petite said. “They know that they have a sub waiting for them that can step in and play.”
The midfield sees the return of two key starters from a season ago. Juniors Kadence Leithleiter and Mary Kate Baswell will run the show in the middle of the park for the Cavaliers.
After sophomore seasons that saw both players have success at a young age, the two are stepping into more of a leadership role as upperclassman.
“While we miss last year’s seniors, I think that we are adjusting well, and we have girls with lots of potential that are ready to step up into their places,” Leithleiter said.
Leithleiter will serve as the team’s primary holding midfielder, breaking up opponent’s play while also adding to the Cavaliers attack. She is one of the players that has taken major strides heading into this season.
“She is such a different player now that she has a year of playing club (soccer) under belt,” Petite said. “She is big and strong and physical. She loves contact and doesn’t mind getting hit and hitting back. That is what you want in a holding midfielder.”
Baswell is the attacking center midfielder and has grown in confidence, which was bolstered by the fact that she started every game in the middle of the park as a sophomore.
“It’s encouraging to see other players stepping up,” Baswell said. “I see many girls filling the leadership roles that we lost as we strive to be the best players that we can be.”
Kaylie Flores will also offer some depth in the midfield. She played significant minutes last season in the midfield.
Senior Kate McAteer will continue to be the main goal scoring threat for the Cavaliers. She transferred into Callaway a season ago and made a huge impact in her first season finishing top two on the team in goals scored and assists.
“My expectations for this season is to keep the standard we set last year and even exceed it,” McAteer said.
“Kate just knows how to score,” Petite said. “She is just a natural finisher, and they don’t come along very often.”
The Cavaliers will have a hard time replacing the production of Keeley McGuffin, who departed for Point University after last season as one of the most productive players in Cavalier history.
One of the players that will help fill that production void is Autumn Brown, who was already an all-region player a season ago but has elevated her game to new heights as a junior.
“If you want to talk about a player that has taken a big step forward, it’s Autumn,” Petite said. “Just her getting a year of club under her belt has made it look night and day. You can see that she can do so much more now. She is one of the most gifted athletes that I’ve had to coach on the soccer field, and now she has the soccer IQ and the touch. She was phenomenal last year, but now she’s deadly in front of goal.”
The other starting forward spot could see Aylin Ulloa step in as a junior.
“She knows how to make runs and find the right spots,” Petite said. “She is our silent assassin.”
Isla Garcia is just a freshman but could see some varsity minutes as one of the main reserves for the attacking players. She is a product of the Callaway Middle School program that started a season ago.
“She’s going to develop into a damn good one, and she’ll help this year,” assistant coach Jeff McGuffin said.
She is one of only two players that are new to the team this year.