LITHIA - The Newsome High girls soccer team is ready for its close up, so to speak. Despite tremendous success in its early years of existence, Newsome has been able to slip under the radar, perhaps hiding behind the years of success of nearby Bloomingdale.
But after last year's team advanced to the state semifinals - something the team has done three of the past four seasons - hiding won't be an option anymore.
Newsome returns a wealth of experience and skill from last year's team, including last season's Tribune player of the year - Kendall Graham.
Newsome will have one new element this season: a new head coach.
Kelly Townsend, who had been the team's assistant the previous two seasons, replaces Kathy Dodd. Dodd stepped down to focus on earning her master's degree but is still a teacher at Newsome.
This will be Townsend's first soccer head coaching job; she was Newsome's flag football coach last season.
Townsend said she's excited about the team's upcoming season but she and the team may miss its anonymity.
'We liked flying under the radar,' Townsend said. 'Now I feel like every team we play wants to be the team to beat us.'
Townsend even took a tongue-in-cheek poke at her team's quick success since the school opened in 2003, saying the team's motto this season should be: 'We are the best team you've never heard of.'
'We are so relatively new. Soccer has been played well in our area for so long that it's time for us to show everybody what we've got,' she said.
As for the team, the secret is out - especially when it comes to Graham. The junior returns as goalkeeper for the Wolves after allowing only 13 goals last season with 96 saves. Graham's success led to her being named last year's Tribune player of the year.
'With Kendall's size and ability in the goal,' Townsend said, 'I haven't seen another keeper in this state that is better then her.'
Forward Kellie Fowke was the Wolves' leading scorer last season with 17 goals and leads a group of three returning Wolves with 12-plus goals. Townsend said Fowke's aggressiveness is a big part of the Wolves offense and her speed is unmatched in the area.
'Kellie brings a lot of speed,' Townsend said. 'She is super-fast and I've honestly never seen a defender that is faster.'
Megan Foley was last year's team leader with 13 assists and added 14 goals, with Ana Cate contributing 12 goals.
Townsend said the team will look to senior Rudi Rodriguez for leadership and ball control in the middle of the field.
As for focus, this team's goal is the state final in Fort Lauderdale.
Cate said the team is looking to continue the short but successful run Newsome has had the past few years. Cate said the team is using last years 3-0 loss to Satellite in the state semifinals as motivation to where the team wants to go this year.
'We know what it takes to get back to the finals this year,' Cate said. 'We will use that as the line that we need to get to.'
Fowke echoed her teammate's view for the season.
'I think we realize teams we played during the season are tough. But when we get to the postseason the teams are even tougher. Nobody wants to feel like we did after the last loss,' she said.
1. Newsome: Coming off of last season's 3-0 state semifinal loss to Satellite, the Wolves have a lot of playoff experience mixed with something to prove. Returning are the three leading scorers (Kellie Fowke, Megan Foley and Ana Cate), as well as goalkeeper Kendall Graham, who allowed only 13 goals last season with 96 saves.
2. East Bay: The Indians are another team looking to build on regular-season success from last year and have the returning players to make that happen. After going 15-2-2 in the regular season a year ago, East Bay returns all but two players. Julie Rolfe, Kelly Leeper and Lauren Verbosky lead the way after combining for 34 goals last season.
3. Tampa Prep: Coach Pam Smith said Tampa Prep will rely on new players mixing well with the returning veterans. Chelsea Klotz (Lake Brantley) and Courtney Zwetsch (Sickles) have transferred in and will bring added strength to the offense, along with freshman Conner Zwetsch.
4. Sickles: The Gryphons will rely on the Payne twins, Shelby and Sydney, to strengthen the offense. Sickles hopes to improve on last season's early district playoff exit.
5. Hillsborough: The Terriers went 13-4 in the regular season last year but were eliminated in the first round of regional play. Hillsborough will look to get over the hump and advance deep into the regional tournament.
1. Kendall Graham, Newsome: The Tribune's player of the year as a sophomore last season, she will be someone to keep an eye on the next two seasons.
2. Julie Rolfe, East Bay: The Indians' leading scorer from last season with 13 goals returns.
3. Kellie Fowke, Newsome: Coming off a season with 17 goals, she mixes tremendous speed with a steady shot.
4. and 5. Shelby and Sydney Payne, Sickles: The freshman twin forwards should make an immediate impact. They were members of the U.S. National U-14 team and will bring that experience to the high-school level.