Marshalltown coach Allie Osmundson is not sugar coating it. As she begins her third season as Bobcat girls soccer coach, the expectations couldn't be higher.
And returning their starting goalkeeper, best defensive player and nine others who scored at least one goal in 2013 are just a few reasons why the 2014 Bobcats are expecting to continue their climb up the Central Iowa Metropolitan Conference ladder.
"We are a lot further along right now than we have been in my first two years," said Osmundson. "We have a lot of girls back and our expectations are definitely high."
The Bobcats won just three games in Osmundson's first season but started 4-0 last year before finishing 10-8. And with just one key player graduating off last year's squad, there is no reason to think the improvement can't continue in 2014.
Headlining this year's roster is Central Iowa Conference Northern Division first-team senior forward Lexi Vaughn and first-team senior sweeper Taylor Vaudt.
Vaughn, an Iowa Central signee, scored six goals and had four assists last year for the Bobcats, while Vaudt, along with returning second-team goalkeeper Amanda Hughes, was a key cog in a defense that recorded shutouts in nine of the team's 10 wins.
"Taylor saved us a lot last year and kept us in a lot of games," said Osmundson.
Joining Hughes on the second-team were junior Molly Major and sophomore Ellyn Boland. Major returns to the midfield this year after scoring four goals and delivering four assists last season. Boland, who is the team's most improved player from last year, will move up into the midfield in 2014 and is expected to replace the departed Megan Major, an all-CIC second-team member last year.
"Ellyn played more of a defensive role last year, but we will move her up to the midfield this year," said Osmundson. "She is much improved and can play anywhere we want to put her."
The list of experienced players does not stop there though.
The Bobcats also bring back senior forward Megan Gardalen, senior midfielders Lindsay Ricken, Brittany Waldron and Emily Rebik, senior defenders Jordyn Simbides and Sam Smith as well as junior defender Erin Woltjer and sophomore midfielder Rachel Whaley.
Gardalen, a Central College signee, tied Vaughn for the team-lead in goals last year with six and also collected three assists but will miss at least this weekend's season-opening tournament at Southeast Polk due to a knee injury. Osmundson says her senior forward is day-to-day.
Boland and Ricken both scored three goals last year, while Whaley had two goals and three assists in a reserve role as a freshman.
"We need to be more confident offensively this year," said Osmundson. "We'll have to score more goals. We won't just kick the ball forward and go from there. We will be a possession team. And I think we are getting better with that."
Megan Major won't be the only player Osmundson will have to replace in 2014. Sophomore Ruth Boland also will miss the entire season after having hip surgery recently. She scored two goals last year and provided the Bobcats with instant spark and speed up front as a freshman.
"We will play the first tournament of the year without five players because they will be at some other events," said Osmundson. "That will give some other players a chance to step up and show what they can do. Ruth will certainly be missed this year, too."
Hughes had 105 saves last year as the starting keeper. She will get pushed for playing time by sophomore Leiah Paustian. Paustian was not on the roster as a freshman, but Osmundson has been impressed so far and expects to use both goalies between the pipes.
The other newcomer who is expected to see plenty of minutes is freshman Kyra Hungerford, who provides Osmundson with some flexibility as she can play anywhere on the field.
"Most of the players are used to my coaching at this point so we want to win as many games as possible this year," said Osmundson. "I want this group of seniors to go out on a good note. But we will be as good as we want to be. The success we have will depend on us. How bad do we want it?"
Osmundson expects every match to be close, but sees Ames, West Des Moines Valley and Ankeny Centennial to be the toughest teams on the Bobcats' schedule.
The Little Cyclones have already lost to Class 1A No. 3 Nevada but feature three NCAA Division I signees, while Centennial starts the season at No. 2 in Class 2A.
One thing is for sure though - the Bobcats will not face either school in Ankeny in the postseason this year. Due to the split, both Ankeny and Ankeny Centennial dropped down to 2A.
And that is perfectly fine with Osmundson.
"Every year, even when I played at Marshalltown, I think we played Ankeny in the playoffs," said the Bobcat coach.
Marshalltown will try to get the season off on the right foot Saturday when it travels to the Southeast Polk Invitational. The Bobcats will face Des Moines East at 9 a.m. and Class 2A No. 13 Newton at 1:30 p.m. It will be the first of two meetings between both programs this year. MHS hosts East and Newton on April 22 and April 24, respectively. Those are the first two home matches of the season for the Bobcats.
The Bobcats beat Des Moines East 1-0 at last year's Southeast Polk tourney and lost 1-0 to the Cardinals in Newton.