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OTTAWA — Four years ago, a group of freshmen girls took to the pitch for the first time representing Ottawa Township High School.
Now, four years later, that upstart club team has blossomed into a winning varsity program, growing up under the direction of coach Holly Hall — the lone coach in program history.
Ten girls remain from that first group of freshmen, and they’ve continued to improve since that initial season of club-level play.
In its first varsity campaign in 2011, the program registered a 6-10-1 record, and it took a small step forward with a 7-10-1 finish last season.
Now, in their third year of varsity competition, the Lady Pirates have matched their high-water mark for wins with a 7-4 record and have developed into one of the area’s best teams.
Senior Briggitte Flowers — the Lady Pirates all-time leading scorer with 54 career goals, including 14 this season —said she and her teammates have worked hard throughout the years to forge an identity and prove the Lady Pirates soccer program belongs among other more established sports.
“Our first year was not the easiest year. We struggled through a lot of things,” Flowers said. “We were a club, and there were girls that weren’t fully dedicated yet. Once we actually started the program, more girls were dedicated. As the years went on, we realized that we do have the ability that people always doubted us (having), and it makes us work that much harder.”
Hall said her first group of freshmen has been the driving force for the program — not only for its recent success, but its inception.
“This is the first team in school history — they’re actually the big group of girls who got the program started and went to the board to get an IHSA official program here,” Hall said. “The progress they’ve made over those four years has just been leaps and bounds for all of them.
“There’s just such a difference from where they came from. The background we have is just really diverse, from having very little experience to having a lot of club experience. And (despite) coming from all these different backgrounds, I’ve still seen every girl grow so much in their game.”
All their growth together has made their final season an emotional one for Hall and the Lady Pirates.
“A couple of years ago when I was student teaching here, I joked with the athletic director and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to get the first girls soccer program going here.’ We both just kind of laughed about it,” recalled Hall. “So to be at this point with these girls, it’s just really an emotional year for us.”
Flowers, who recently signed to continue her soccer career at Concordia College and is the third Lady Pirate to sign with a collegiate squad along with defender Sydney Beyer (Lincoln College) and midfielder Natalie Conrad (University of St. Francis), agreed that there are a lot of emotions tied into her and her classmates’ final season on the prep soccer pitch.
“For a lot of us seniors, it’s really emotional. Some of us are happy that we’re moving on (to play in college), but then it’s hard to say, ‘OK, bye, guys.’ We started it, we did it together. (Now) one of the main things is that we want to finish this year strong.
“All of us seniors want to take a regional home this year. We want to show the younger girls you can do it, even when people don’t think you can. It’s going to be work no matter what, but you’ve got to be willing to give to get back.”
Hall said this year’s senior class has already left its mark on Ottawa girls soccer and it’s going to be tough to see them go — hopefully after an extended postseason run.
“We all have said that they’re the ones that wanted to get the program started here. Having them go out this year will be a difficult transition for everybody,” Hall said. “But at the same time, we have young girls who want that program to continue. They look up to these girls.”
Flowers said she and her fellow seniors are glad to have already left a lasting mark on the program they helped create.
“We’re already so glad we got this program started. There’s so many girls that you can look at out on the field and see the dedication — see how hard they want this,” Flowers said. “It’s nice that we could help them get that. It’s going to be nice to come back in 10 or 15 years and see girls still showing up, still wanting this sport.”
Chris Yucus can be reached at 220-6995, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.
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