It didn’t take long for Chesterton girls soccer coach Jason Conway to recognize he had a special player in midfielder Olivia Hansen.
“Olivia came in the first day of summer conditioning as a freshman and you watched her play and knew she was — in terms of soccer knowledge and ability — a step ahead,” he said. “There wasn’t even a question that she would start on varsity.”
Now a junior, Hansen is a core member of a Trojans squad that won a share of the Duneland Athletic Conference title and went 11-3-4 last season. Conway noted that, along with Hansen, there are several players with three years of varsity experience.
None is more important than senior goalie Molly McLaughlin, who returns to the net for her third season as the starter. Like Hansen, her smarts and desire to lead are key components to a team looking to make a deep postseason run after a disappointed first-round loss to rival Valparaiso in the sectional last year.
“She has a lot of 'V' experience and her leadership is something that has really come through in last two years,” Conway said. “She’s very vocal on field and intelligent when it comes to soccer. She sees things others don’t see.”
For both Hansen and McLaughlin, the experience they have accumulated goes well beyond their high school careers. The friends and teammates also play for the club team FC Indiana, based in South Bend, where they have gotten the opportunity to play with and learn from a variety of Division I college and international standouts. It has provided invaluable lessons for the Trojans co-captains, as they have been pushed to keep pace with older, more seasoned talent.
McLaughlin, for example, had the chance to train with keeper Andrea Vera during this past FC Indiana season, who was part of the Ecuadorian team that competed in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“Andrea took me under her wing a little bit,” McLaughlin said. “We’d do drills in practice and she was very demanding of me, expected a lot. It was difficult at first but it made me step up my game a lot.”
Hansen, who has played with FC Indiana since eighth grade and encouraged McLaughlin to join her on the team a year later, agreed that their experience on the club team during the spring and summer has helped them develop in ways they would not have been able to otherwise.
“When we started, we were the youngest ones on the team and the older ones pushed us and we’ve been able to take that back to the high school team and push the freshmen and help build their confidence,” Hansen said. “It’s such a high speed of play and we can use that now in high school.”
Both players are eager to put the skills they honed during the club season to use for the Trojans. They’ll have a big game in which to do that on Tuesday, when they open DAC play with a home match against Valpo, whose midfielder Olivia Shaw is also an FC Indiana player.
“We always set winning the DAC as a goal,” Conway said. “I think that’s attainable. The girls definitely want to do well in the postseason and they really want to go as far as they can go. Having Molly as keeper is a key part of that. We have a good group in front of Molly as well and she’d be first to say they take a lot of pressure off her and Olivia is big part of that.”