PUNXSUTAWNEY — Punxsy's girls' soccer team has one week of practice and one scrimmage under its belt, but first-year head coach Kevin Hughes still has a lot to look forward to.
Just because Hughes has the first-year label tacked onto the front of his title this year, though, doesn't mean he isn't familiar with the game and Punxsy's soccer system.
"This is my first year as head coach of the girls' varsity squad," Hughes said. "But I have been around soccer, coaching at the recreational level for the past eight years and came on board to help out the high school program as a volunteer four years ago."
Hughes' assistant coach this season will be Sarah Hicks, who played soccer in a similar program in Ohio.
"Coaching at this level poses some unique challenges, probably the most significant of which is the degree of competition," Hughes said. "We seem to struggle each year trying to reach a .500 season. Our intensity in many close games just hasn't always been there. This year, however, enthusiasm is at an all-time high, and I am looking forward to seeing these girls demonstrate to the community that we have the will to compete no matter what the competition is."
Punxsy's squad has four returning senior starters this season in Sierra Milton, Keaton Mohney, Alissa Vite and Kelsey Young.
Additionally, seniors Tasha Story, Cenneca Dilts and Barb Tyler will likely see their share of playing time this year.
So far, Hughes likes what he sees in practice, and not just from his seniors.
"We have many other promising prospects in each grade who will see varsity time this year, because although some of them have never played before, they are working very hard and developing well. I am looking forward to telling you all about their efforts as the season goes on."
Hughes has plans to change the system a bit, and he hopes doing so will help his team play to some of his its players strengths.
Center midfielder Milton is one of the players Hughes hopes his new system will highlight.
"We plan to use Sierra in a slightly different role this year, where she may have to distribute the ball a little more often than she is used to, but she will also have more freedom to shoot," he said. "This dual role, we think, will make her much more dangerous."
Ashley Bacha will also help lead the charge for Punxsy offensively, but Bacha brings an element of defense to the two-sided sport, as well.
"Ashley will be supporting Sierra on the inside," Hughes said. "She has good control and can distribute the ball well, but she also has a more defensive mindset."
Punxsy's defense will be anchored by returning sophomore defender Emily Horner and returning senior defender Mohney, and Young will be Punxsy's goalkeeper.
Hughes said practices have been going well, and he isn't surprised to see the players working hard and displaying some new skills, because many of them participated in soccer camp earlier in the summer.
He said the coaching staff has been trying to "emphasize the need for the girls to stay positive both in practice and in the games," and also pointed out that some of his players, like forward Sydney Dubensky, have been making gains not only on the field at practice, but also in helping boost the team's morale during the tough first week of camp.
"Sydney, while becoming a capable player, also leads the team in being positive and supporting her teammates during some of the tough conditioning," he said.
Punxsy hosted Ridgway for a scrimmage Tuesday afternoon and has another scrimmage scheduled against Kane next week, but the regular season opens when Punxsy hosts a tournament Saturday, Sept. 3.
Punxsy's first scheduled match is in Brookville Tuesday, Sept. 6, and the home opener will be Sept. 8.