2024 season preview: Callaway girls soccer looks to raise first banner in program history
Published 8:30 am Thursday, January 18, 2024
The Callaway girls soccer team has their highs firmly planted on some lofty goals this season. The team consists of a large class of 10 seniors who want to hang the first banner in program history.
“Yesterday, we had indoor practice and the seniors were facing the end of the gym facing all our banners and told them to find the girls soccer banner and there is not one,” Callaway head coach Mike Petite said on Wednesday. “I told them if you put up a banner this year it will never come down and you will be the first team since 1997 when the doors opened to do that as a soccer team.”
The girls were already hungry for success, but the words that Petite delivered crawled under their skin. You can see that determination in all of the seniors’ eyes and it’s even more prevalent in their voices when they talk about it as they have all poured their hearts into this program, some for as long as five years.
“We want to put up a banner and leave our mark,” Mary Kate Baswell said. “We definitely want to be region champions and make it deep into the playoffs.”
Senior forward Autumn Brown added: “This being my last year makes me want to push even harder because this is my last time to be a part of this team. Last game I’m going to be sobbing I know that”
Getting a banner would consist of one of two outcomes: a region championship or an elite eight appearance (or better).
The team set a new season record for wins two seasons ago with 16 and followed that up with 14 last season for their most wins in a two-year span in program history. Unfortunately, in both seasons the Cavaliers lost heart-breakers at home in the opening round of the AA state playoffs — a 2-1 loss to Dade County in 2022 and a 3-2 loss to Walker in 2023 — and finished second in the region each season. The defeats stung but only left the now seniors with more resolve as they chase history.
There is an interesting dynamic on the team as the two largest classes of players are seniors and freshmen.
“It feels like half of the team is seniors and the other half are freshmen,” senior Kaylie Flores said. “We literally only have two juniors on the team.
“We are learning to play with them and it is forcing us to step up as seniors.”
The Callaway Middle program has continued to expand and grow since its inception a few years ago. This means that more girls have been introduced to the sport at a younger age so now when they get to the high school level, their skills are more fine-tuned.
“The middle school program has been such a blessing for us because historically we don’t have a lot of kids play club, so they are now getting more experience playing at a younger age,” Petite said.
Now that Petite is going into his third year in charge of the girl’s program, the team has a better understanding of how the coach wants them to play and vice versa.
“He has made us more confident on the ball,” Kadence Leithleiter said. “He has helped our confidence and pushed us to better.”
Assistant coach Jeff McGuffin, who has been a part of the program for eight years now, helped fill the gaps and helped with the adjustment period during Petite’s takeover as head coach. With Petite serving double duty, as boys head coach as well, McGuffin is instrumental in the success of the team.
“Jeff has been great for us because he knows the history from year to year and really puts it all together for us,” Petite said. “He helps bridge any gaps.”
There is little doubt who will be the focal point up front as Autumn Brown has now played multiple years of club soccer and has blossomed into a dynamic goal-scoring threat. She already has college offers and is expected to take another step forward in her final season in red and black.
The Cavaliers will have to replace their top goal scorer from a season ago — Kate McAteer. It will not be easy, but Brown will be leading the charge with other veterans on the team expected to be even bigger parts of the attack.
“Aylin (Ulloa) had a big year for us last season, scoring eight or nine goals, and we expect she will be even more involved this season,” Petite said.
Sophomore Isla Garcia played sporadically as a freshman, but could very well find herself as a starter this season as she brings a ton of pace and energy to the top end of the pitch.
“We expect her to step into that Autumn role and be a strong facilitator,” Petite said. “She is still figuring it out much like Autumn was at her age.”
Freshman Sofia Flores and Norma Trinidad will offer some cover in the forward positions and could be contributors early in the season.
“Sofia Flores is one that I think will turn a lot of heads early on,” Petite said. “Norma is very skilled and has a great work ethic, so I expect her to step into a big role for us either this season or next.”
Freshman Lilli Cook could see some time rotating in as a forward and midfielder.
Petite will have two leaders and stalwarts in the heart of his team. Mary Kate Baswell and Kadence Leithleiter are warriors in the middle of the park and have been instrumental in the Cavaliers’ success in recent seasons.
“Their energy and level of passion and their constant work rate is essential for us,” Petite said.
Baswell developed into more of a goal-scoring threat last season and will be the second-highest scorer returning from last year’s team. Leithleiter is a ball-winner and more of a defensive presence as she provides cover for the backline.
The rest of the midfield is not as settled as those two, but senior Hardaway transfer Jay Bussey could earn one of the starting spots as well as fill in at forward as well. Sofia Flores could also see time in midfield
Mya Lawton had been the leader in the back for the defense, but she has graduated and her shoes will have to be filled by others.
Petite is shifting his formation from having three defenders at the back to four. He believes this will offer some additional stability at the back. Who plays in what position is still yet to be determined, but Petite has a collection of experienced players he can call upon in defense.
“When you lose a player like Mya, it is tough to replace what she did, but all the girls that we will put back there have experience,” Petite said. “Rosa Gomez, Kaylie Flores, Scotty (Payne) and Deyany Valasquez have all had a lot of reps back there. It is a work in progress, but they are solid and they know what they are doing. All four are seniors so they know what the expectation is around here.”
Flores could very well be that leader at the back for the Cavaliers.
“I’m learning how to step up as a senior,” Flores said. “We have a lot of young girls on the team that aren’t used to how we do things yet.”
This is the position that is the biggest question mark as of now. Raine Hunt played practically every game in goal the last two seasons and as a multi-time all-region player, she will be hard to replace.
Alayna Leithleiter joined the team partway through last season and served as the backup goalkeeper. Freshman Katie Beth Bass will compete with Leithleiter for the starting goalkeeper position.
“This is the first time I’ve ever had two girl goalkeepers, so it is good to have the pair of them to work with each other and challenge each other,” Petite said. “No matter who is back there, it will be a new face for us.”