In the short, but successful tenure of Eastbrook Panthers girls soccer, the 2018 season was their best one yet.
Under first year head coach Jamie Hallis, the Panthers thrived. They won 17 games, their most in program history, and advanced to the Class 1A regional final, their best-ever finish.
Striker Sarah Foulk, one of the county’s most gifted and talented players, put together a season for the ages. Her 51 goals in 2018 not only broke the single-season goal record at Eastbrook, but also set a new Grant County record. The Panthers’ star averaged 2.7 goals a game, while also finishing with 11 assists and 113 total points.
The Panthers’ strong supporting cast of Natalie Danals, Johwen McKim, Natalie Lakanen, and Naomi Diller each played excellent soccer as well, combining to score 30 goals, while Danals and Lakanen recorded 15 and 13 assists, respectively.
In goal, Gabby Scott made 96 saves and allowed just eight goals in her sophomore campaign.
And in 2019, all of those players will be back, solidifying themselves as not only one of the best teams in the area, but one of the best in the entire state of Indiana.
But Hallis and the Panthers have not been thinking about that. Rather, they have been focusing on improving their craft – and having a good time in the process.
“This summer, one of our main goals was just to have fun and enjoy playing with each other,” Hallis said. “These girls really do just enjoy the sport. The second [goal] was continuing to learn and sharpen, not necessarily skills, but more of the dynamics of soccer andof soccer. [Especially] learning how to move together off thpPreparing for what could be a special season, the Panthers have been all-in since the beginning of offseason workouts, and Hallis has been pleased with the progress that she has seen.
“We had great turnout for our open fields,” Hallis said. “We had really high numbers, which is really encouraging to see. I’ve seen some great leadership in our junior and senior class, so that’s been really fun to see them step up. It’s really their team, and they take ownership of it.”
While the Panthers were successful last year, all teams have skills to improve on and areas in which they could perform better. Eastbrook is a technically sound group. They move the ball well, pass the ball skillfully, and give themselves plenty of scoring opportunities.
Now, for the Panthers, it is all about refinement.
“I am really going to be pushing on our offense, and even a little on the defense, that they each can play each of the positions,” Hallis said. “I want them…to constantly rotate if needed, and feel comfortable stepping into all of those positions. I am really hoping we will see more of that this year. They are all so good on the ball, and they all see the field so well.”
After a record-breaking 2018 season, Hallis believes that Foulk has gotten even better throughout the offseason, and believes that she will once again be a force to be reckoned with this fall.
“I think she is continuing to improve,” Hallis said. “She was able to play club in Indianapolis this past year, so I know that was a really good experience for her. She’s just really, I would say, sharpening the little things now, which is really fun. She’s getting to where she needs to be, and she is finding different ways to get there.”
While the Eastbrook offense was tremendous all last year, it could be argued that theon defense was their best asset. Shauna Singer, Grace Brown, Rachel Manning, and Riya Patel were the backbone of a sturdy back line, keeping the field clean in front of Scott and not allowing many opposing scoring chances.
And like all of Eastbrook’s offensive weapons, they will all be back in 2019.
“They have their system,” Hallis said. “They love it. They own it. And it’s a joy to watch them run it.”
Understandably, there is a lot of buzz surrounding this group. They’ve returned nearly all of their key players, and they are a unit that has played, and won, a plethora of soccer games together in recent years.
But for Hallis, she just wants her girls to play their best soccer on a consistent basis. If they do that, then the sky is the limit for this team.
“I will expect a lot from the girls, because they do have a lot of talents and we are returning almost everybody,” Hallis said. “I just hope they come in and they work really hard and that they are utilizing all the talent that they have.
“I think the girls are really excited. They all know we have some potential…I think they are really hoping that it takes us far. I’m just hoping that we will be able to play some beautiful soccer again and that girls soccer will be an enjoyable sport for people to watch.”