KINGMAN - This time last year, Kingman High girls soccer coach Jennifer Johnston wasn't sure what to expect in her first year as head coach.
Now, with a year under her belt, she has a better idea of her team and, most importantly, the type of competition her team will face.
"I'm a little more aware," Johnston said. "I didn't know what the culture for soccer was here, I didn't know our opponents and I think I now know what our strengths and weakness are and what we need to work on."
Last year, the Lady Bulldogs finished the year 4-11. They return senior captain Ana Ramirez, Paulina Delgado and Natalie Casson, who is switching from midfielder to goalkeeper.
"She is showing a lot of potential for being a keeper as she does for anything she does," Johnston said of Casson.
Liz Angle, Haley Moore and Alyssa McBride are expected to contribute to the varsity squad after making the jump from the junior varsity team.
"I'm really excited because I'm not such a newbie," Johnston said. "I know a lot of these returning players and there are a lot of things from last year that we are going to improve on. Last year was the basics and now we feel like we can build on that."
KHS will open the season on the road against Flagstaff on Tuesday and will play their first three matches on the road. The Lady Bulldogs won't have their first home match until after the Christmas break on Jan. 3 against Prescott.
"Things are looking good. I'm excited for the new season," Johnston said. "We have a lot of returning players on both the varsity and the JV, but we also have a lot of new players."
One of Johnston's goals entering her first season was to grow the program. This year, when practice began at the end of October, she had more girls try out than last year, including an influx of sophomores and juniors along with some seniors who never came out before.
"We have a pretty broad mix of players that I haven't seen before," Johnston said. "I think we are expanding our program, which is good. We are adding on to what we already have and we are adding more people."
Johnston said she would have 20 on her varsity squad while JV coach Laura Hilfinger will have 27 players.
This will give Johnston some flexibility for some unforeseen circumstances that tend to come up during the course of the season.
"Assuming there are no injuries or drop outs, I would like to have 18 on the varsity squad. Twenty is almost getting to be too many because you want to have a cohesive team," Johnston said.
"But last year, I thought 18 would be more than enough but then all of a sudden somebody had a broken wrist or somebody got sick and then I didn't have enough to put on the field."