Bullfrogs are hopeful for better days with more players in uniform

By the end of the short spring season, the Bret Harte girls’ soccer team was down to 11 players. Head coach Jessica Bowman went into the final game of the season without any substitutes.

Lacking bodies shouldn’t be an issue for Bret Harte this season.

The varsity Bullfrogs have 18 players on the roster, and the JV team has even more than that. Having so many players back in the program after being down to only 11 seven months ago is a cause to be optimistic about the upcoming season.

“It’s really promising to see so many girls coming out for soccer this year,” said Bowman, who is entering her third season as Bret Harte’s head coach. “They are enthusiastic about playing with less Covid restrictions to deal with as well. Obviously, it’s equally as cool to see 25 on our JV roster. That’s promising for the future of soccer at Bret Harte, which is really exciting.”

Bullfrogs are hopeful for better days with more players in uniform

One player who is happy to have more teammates is senior Burgen Melton, who said, “I love how many new and returning girls were willing to participate this season. Our team is very fortunate to have the numbers we have now, so we will have additional players to fill in for injured players and substitutions. With the numbers we have, I’m hoping this season will be one of the most successful yet.”

Not only is Bowman pleased about the number of players on her varsity team, but she cannot help but be excited to see how many young players there are on the JV roster. Bowman knows that a program cannot be successful without a solid understanding of fundamentals, which is what is taught at the JV level.

“It’s incredible, and it’s also exciting to see some of the girls on JV, who maybe haven't played soccer since sixth grade,” Bowman said. “A lot of them are crossover athletes who just came out of the pool from water polo, or have just come off of the volleyball court. They are cross trained athletes, but excited to be playing soccer after four or six years of not playing. It’s really promising and exciting to see.”

Bullfrogs are hopeful for better days with more players in uniform

At the start of the short spring season, the Bret Harte players were given very little notice ahead of time as to whether or not they’d be playing. One day there was no season, and the next they found out they’d be playing in a week. Having weeks of practice before having an official game has benefited the Bullfrogs heading into the 2021-22 season.

“Actually having a few weeks of practice before games has made this year feel so much more normal than last year,” Bret Harte senior Gracie Shaw said. “I think as a team, we all feel a lot more prepared obviously physically, but mentally as well.”

Because Bowman has more time with her players before the season begins, they can focus more into the overall fitness of her squad. Last season, there was very little time for Bowman to get her players into shape before games began, and that had an effect on the way they played and how she coached. Bowman hopes that focusing more on fitness will show results when games begin.

Bullfrogs are hopeful for better days with more players in uniform

“I’m putting a way bigger emphasis on getting fit and getting fit early this year,” Bowman said. “We didn’t even know if we were even going to get to play last year, so we just got out here and started scrimmaging amongst ourselves and were just grateful to be even able to play. This year, we are getting fit early and I think that’s going to make a big difference right out of the gate with our stamina.”

Returning to the Bret Harte soccer field is senior Kara Schultz, who did not play during the short spring season. As a sophomore, Schultz was a Mother Lode League first-team player and led the Bullfrogs in scoring. Bowman hopes that Schultz can help Bret Harte’s offensive attack, which only scored two goals in nine games during the spring season.

“She’s obviously a senior this year and is bringing a lot of experience to the field,” Bowman said about Schultz. “She’s one of the fastest players we’ve probably ever had come through Bret Harte. Again, with the combination of her agility, her quickness and her experience, she’s going to be such a strong force in the front for us this year.”

Bullfrogs are hopeful for better days with more players in uniform

Bret Harte didn’t win a game in the spring season, and all the games were played against Mother Lode League opponents. With more players on the roster, plus the addition of Schultz, Shaw feels that the Bullfrogs should be able to open some eyes once league play rolls around.

“I think we’re definitely going to surprise some teams in league this year, at least with our numbers alone,” Shaw said. “We’ve had more girls come out for soccer this year than in my past three years at Bret Harte, which has really helped us in building our offense, which will hopefully surprise teams this year as well, given that we’ve been short on offensive players in the last year or two.”

Perhaps what will help the Bullfrogs the most is a preseason, which begins at 5:45 p.m., Friday, against Weston Ranch at Dorroh Field in Angels Camp. Bowman is thankful to have preseason games back on her schedule, as it gives her players a chance to figure things out, without it hurting them in the league standings.

Bullfrogs are hopeful for better days with more players in uniform

“It’s a huge advantage,” Bowman said. “Actually, it’s going to make it enjoyable in some ways. We’ll be able to relax and enjoy some of our first few games without having consequences for having a loss and really taking that on the chin. We’ll be able to work out those kinks and make some adjustments to our lineup and our strategies, without having ramifications of making errors early on and having it show in the league standings.”

In the two years under Bowman, the Bullfrogs have won only one Mother Lode League game. Improving in league games is something Bowman feels will happen this upcoming season.

“My expectations are to do better in league than we did the past two years,” Bowman said. “We have some seniors who are very promising and very skilled with great leadership skills. We have a few inexperienced varsity players, which obviously is something to work with. But again, as long as we keep our communication really strong and our fitness up, there’s no way that we can’t do better than we have before.”

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