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story.lead_photo.caption Izzy Luebbert is one of four starters returning from the 2019 team this season or the Helias Lady Crusaders. Photo by News Tribune / News Tribune.

The Helias Lady Crusaders return four starters this soccer season.

That's the good news. The bad news?

Those four are the only players with varsity experience as the Lady Crusaders start the season tonight at Waynesville against the Lady Tigers.

"It's challenging, it's exciting, but there are perils," Helias coach Jay Hebenheimer said. "With so many new players, we're having to teach a lot of things that normally we would be firing on all cylinders."

The loss of the 2020 season was disappointing for the Lady Crusaders. It was also costly as six girls who played in 2019 opted not to come back this season.

"I believe that's because of the long layoff," Hebenheuimer said. "Soccer is a high-energy sport and when you don't play it for an extended period of time like this, you might lose that drive and that want to play."

It was also a lost year of development for the younger players.

"I'm looking at it like we have two freshman classes," Hebenheimer said. "The sophomores didn't get a chance to go through the program last year. So while they aren't freshmen, we're sort of treating them that way at the start and then they can grow.

"That group would have been ingrained into what we were trying to do, it's all catch-up for them right now. And you can see that rust with things like first touch and game understanding."

Izzy Luebbert, Kaitlyn Buker, Audrey Ickes and Savannah Feltrop are the returning starters for Helias.

Buker will start at goalkeeper, while Ickes returns to play in the back. She will be joined on the defensive end by Lily Winegar and Audrey Klinger, with either Machaela Wehrle or Mattie Rost holding down the other spot.

Luebbert will be the attacking midfielder, while Feltrop will be the holding midfielder. Molly Driscoll will fill out the triangle in the middle. Danielle Buker and Caroline McCurren will play the outside midfielders, with Zoey Hebenheimer starting at striker.

Cameron Strope and Delaney Gash are the primary reserves for the Lady Crusaders, who has just 23 total players.

"The rest will play a majority of their time on the JV," Jay Hebenheimer said.

With the low numbers, JV games will be only a half this season.

"We have very good numbers coming in for the next few years," Hebenheimer said. "My 40-locker locker room that has 23 girls in it this year will have 40 in it in the future."

Conditioning has been stressed in the preseason.

"If we're going to be successful, those starting 11 are going to have to be able to run for 70 minutes a game," Hebenheimer said. "I can get them out for a spurt or two."

The team will work on its substitution packages at the start of the season.

"Trying to figure out who will go where when I bring a girl off will be important," Hebenheimer said. "We need to figure out how to keep everybody in a spot they are comfortable with when they move around."

But after missing last season, those are good problems to have.

"Thank goodness we're playing," Hebenheimer said. "Things are getting better and that's a great thing. The fact that we have the opportunity to go out there and play is exciting."

Helias is waiting to see if it will be in Class 3 or 4 when district tournament play begins.

"Whatever class we are in, I believe we can make a deep run," Hebenheimer said. "I think we will shock some people this year.

"We have soccer players instead of girls who play soccer. That's starting to take hold at Helias."

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