Darton's Deanna Reali, a midfielder from Marietta, is one of only two returning starters for the Lady Cavs soccer team this season.
ALBANY — The Darton State College women’s soccer team could have used some name tags during their first day of summer practice.
That’s how many new faces there are this year for the Lady Cavs, who lost all but five players from last season’s national runner-up team.
“It was a little bit awkward at first. We introduced our names and where we were from and said little facts about ourselves,” sophomore Deanna Reali said this week during practice in preparation for today’s season opener at home against South Georgia College at 6 p.m. “For the first week we didn’t know each other’s names.”
There are 16 new players and nine new starters on the Lady Cavs’ 21-player roster this season.
But don’t let that fool you.
There’s still that same winning attitude on a Darton team that is ranked No. 2 in the preseason NJCAA poll.
“We can be good, especially controlling the midfield,” said head coach Ken Veilands, who is entering his 13th year. “Our strength can be that we have some explosive kids up top who can finish. If we can just develop the back (defense) and get everybody involved across the field, we can be pretty good. And we have the potential to do that.”
Last season, the Lady Cavs had one of the best years in the history of the program, finishing 18-3-2, winning the Region XVII crown and advancing to the national championship game, where they lost to Tyler (Tex.), 1-0.
Reali, a midfielder from Marietta and one of only two returning starters, knows the expectations are high for her team.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure that the sophomores are carrying on their backs,” she said. “Last year, I was looking up to my sophomores, and this year I am going to have to be the one they look up to. I have to step up my game and leadership.”
Kim Treutel, a sophomore midfielder from Newnan, is the team’s other returning starter and has also had to transition into one of the team’s leaders.
“At first, it was a rocky start, but we are already pulling together,” Treutel said. “It’s definitely a big change, because we were a very close group last year.”
The 2011 Lady Cavs were very close — and also very talented.
They scored 129 goals throughout the season and were led by Sashanna Campbell (36 goals, 18 assists), Shelby Bush (33 goals, 12 assists) and Haisha Cantave (21 goals, 8 assists). Campbell and Bush are now at the University of West Florida, and Cantave, a former player on the Canadian U-17 national team, is now playing professionally in Switzerland.
Of the 129 goals they scored in 2011, only 11 were scored by one of the five returners. Last year, Savanah Cantrell (Perry, Fla.) had five goals and two assists, Treutel had three goals and three assists, Reali had two goals and seven assists, Katherine Blumhardt (Canon) had one goal and six assists and Paige Douglas (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.) had two assists.
Veilands said he could see as many as nine freshmen starting in today’s season opener against South Georgia College, including Shenika Williams, who is a former member of Jamaica’s U-20 national team.
The youthful Lady Cavs will then be tested this weekend when they travel to Mississippi to play a pair of games against reigning national champion Tyler and Mississippi Golf Coast.