Lady Red Devil soccer ushers in a new era

Senior Sierra Burleigh (22) and freshman MacKenzie Porter (12) battle against Kelly Walsh in the season opener for Lady Red Devil soccer. (COURTESY PHOTO/Tracy Burleigh)

EVANSTON — Karalyn Barton accepted the head coaching position for Lady Red Devil soccer right before Christmas to fill the void created by the departure of Chuck Grenfell. Barton then had the task of selecting her assistant coaches and Sunny Schuler and Marlee Cowan were tabbed to help guide the team for the 2019 spring season.

Barton knew of Cowan from her Lady Red Devil playing days and was also aware of Cowan’s time spent playing at Western Wyoming College and that she assisted Evanston-product and Western head coach Jeff Atkinson as a student-assistant after suffering an ankle injury. She did not personally know Schuler at the time but was able to discover the former EHS standout athlete’s credentials and realized Schuler would be a welcome addition to her staff and a new era of Lady Red Devil soccer was born.

The Lady Red Devils fell to Kelly Walsh, 5-1, in the season opener on Friday, March 21, but turned around to tie Natrona County on Saturday, March 22, 1-1, in Casper. The Kelly Walsh game marked the first time Evanston was able to compete on a soccer field. Due to copious amounts of snowfall in the Evanston area, Barton’s squad has been relegated to practicing in a gymnasium.

“Soccer is so much about finding space — opening up gaps on offense and closing them on defense. It’s very difficult to replicate in a gym setting,” Barton told the Herald. 

“It’s really hard to teach tactical concepts due to the limited width, so we’ve been focusing on individual skills, including touches, ball-control and what we call beast-mode soccer. We’ve worked on spacing, passing and receiving. We haven’t been able to work much on shooting because there’s really no target,” Barton added.

Barton explained that a regular season of soccer consists of approximately 120 hours and that last season, the team spent less than 30 hours, games included, on an outdoor facility with a netted goal. The coach doesn’t anticipate being able to practice outdoors for another couple of weeks.

The team lost a very good class of seniors to graduation but returns a solid nucleus with varsity experience from last season. Senior Bailey Porter returns as goal keeper, along with fellow seniors Sierra Burleigh and Brittany Barton, although Barton is being eased back into the lineup after suffering an ACL injury last season and re-aggravating the injury this past January.

Barton played 10 minutes against Kelly Walsh and almost 15 minutes versus Natrona County. Burleigh has been playing out of position in the midfield, pending Barton’s full-time return as a starter. Sophomore Rachael Haack returns with experience in the midfield, as well, along with sophomore defenders, Sienna Ellingford and Nayeli Mota. Junior Taryn Wagstaff and sophomores Lauren Hiatt and Quetzalli Penaloza are also mainstays for Lady Red Devil soccer with varsity experience from last season.

Hiatt scored the goal against Kelly Walsh and Wagstaff connected for a score on a free kick at the 26 minute mark of the second half to secure the tie with Natrona, a first, Barton believes, in the history of Lady Red Devil soccer. Despite the score differential, Barton was actually more pleased with her team’s overall effort in the opening loss at Kelly Walsh, than the tie game against Natrona County.

“I thought we possessed the ball and passed better against Kelly Walsh than we did the next day against Natrona. I saw them connecting passes more than I ever have with Evanston girls’ soccer. Chuck Grenfell and Brian Richins have certainly had a hand in helping our team reach that level,” Barton said.

The coach continued. “I was really quite ecstatic with how we came out and competed. We had some hiccups and when we did, Kelly Walsh was able to take advantage and score, but those are issues that can be taken care of.”

“Against Natrona, I thought we were the better team on the field even though it ended in a tie,” Barton added.

The head coach said she believes Kelly Walsh and Rock Springs will be the teams to beat in conference play and was unsure of what Jackson had returning, after the Lady Broncs were in the mix at the top of the conference standings last season. She feels her team is capable of defeating or at least playing very competitively against Natrona County, Green River and Star Valley in the 4A west this season, but will give their best against the teams she expects to be at the top, too.

Barton concluded, “I was very pleased with our girls. I hope we can make some history this season. I think we have a great shot to make it to state and have more conference wins than we’ve ever had before. I’m super excited about the possibilities. I just hope we stay healthy.”

The team will next take the field over the spring break week at EHS in conference matchups in Sweetwater County. Evanston will take on Rock Springs on Tuesday, April 2, and will battle Green River on Friday, April 5, with both contests getting underway at 5 p.m.

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