UNION TWP. — In early July, Wheeler girls soccer coach Bryan Murray had to curb the chatter about last year.
The Bearcats’ 1-0 loss to Evansville Mater Dei in the 2017 Class A state final broke the team's collective heart. But Wheeler needed to focus on the present and future.
It's a new season.
“We had to hit a reset button and say ‘It’s not about (last year),’” Murray said. “When you’ve been some place and you know that you return the majority of your team and all of your offense, you think it’s going to come easy.
“We’ve got to put in the work, incorporate new players and get on the same page. We’ve got to continue to put in the work. That’s why we got there.”
Lyric Green put an extra time header into the net that would have tied that state title game. Officials flagged her offsides. The call upset the Wheeler fan base but even Green admits now that it was the right call.
“It was very close but I do think it was a good call,” Green said. “It just hurt, kind of, because we came back really fast and we had a chance. I think having that experience will really help us go further.”
A playoff run that deep strengthened team morale. Practices are more intense when state championships become more tangible goals.
“Coming in now, we are all just one the same level,” senior captain Lauren Putz said. “None of us our super timid out here when we’re playing. We’re all confident in what we can do, in each other’s abilities, and that’s what will get us further this season, I think.”
The Bearcats still know how to have fun, though. Thursday’s training was rife with smiles, laughs, happy yells and inside jokes.
“If you don’t like someone, you’re not going to want to play with them or pass the ball to them,” Riley Garcia said. “Us having a lot of personalities and joking around with each other makes us all really want to work with each other.”
The back end is the one area where Wheeler will look different this year. It must replace two defensive starters and goalie Cheyenne Foor. Alaina Hill steps between the pipes after missing a year with a concussion.
“It’s just the back four getting thing figured out,” Murray said. “(Hill) is very, very athletic and she has a big leg. And she’s, without a doubt, our best communicator that we’ve had in the back so it’s a nice replacement.”
Green returns to lead one of the area’s most potent offenses. She scored an astounding 44 goals as a junior to lead the area. The Bearcats scored at least five goals in all but four games.
The summer schedule featured scrimmages with major 2A programs like Penn and Crown Point. Wheeler was preparing.
“How bad do I want to win a state title? On a scale of one to 10, probably an 11,” Putz said. “Especially since it’s my last year, I want to go out with a bang.”