BY ANDY ROWER | MIRROR SPORTS — With 16 varsity players returning from last year’s district semifinalist soccer team, new Maumee coach Jeremiah McNutt has high hopes for this year’s girls soccer team.
“By watching them play and looking at our schedule, I think we should have a great year,” McNutt said. “I’m going to put a lot of pressure on them to expect a lot out of themselves – just because I see it in them. I see a lot of talent up and down the roster, from the seniors down to a couple of freshmen.”
The Panthers won 60 percent of their games from 1999 to 2013, but have been victorious in just 26 percent since 2014.
“When I saw the job was open, I thought Maumee has such a rich history that I wanted to help bring that back,” McNutt said. “That’s the main thing that brought me here – the challenge of rebuilding a program that has a lot of potential.”
Though last year’s 7-9-2 (2-5 in Northern Lakes League play) squad graduated Norwegian exchange student and third-team All-NLL selection Emilie Engelien (nine goals, four assists) and forward Maegan Seeman (now playing at Mercyhurst College North East), the 2019 Panthers still return plenty of offense.
Leading the way is a two-time, second-team all-district and two-time third-team NLL selection in senior forward Chayah Keller.
Keller scored seven goals last year and assisted on another.
“I’m hoping to get a lot out of Chayah,” McNutt said. “I’m hoping she can be not only a goal scorer, but a distributor and also a leader on the field. I know teams are going to key in on her, so hopefully she can open up other players with the things she does when she is not able to get the ball.”
Another key offensive returner is junior attacking midfielder Kelsey Walborn, who scored six goals and assisted on four more last year.
“Kelsey has been a big leader for us already in the offseason,” McNutt said. “I expect to see her and Chayah work together and play off of each other a lot.”
Other returning scoring threats will be senior center midfielder Nora Smalley, junior wing Olivia Zale, wide midfielder Taylor Westrick, fellow sophomore and forward Lydia Crable and classmate and center midfielder Lilly Murphy.
“With Taylor’s speed, she should be able to attack from the sides,” McNutt said. “I like to have wingers that are quick and can get up and down, so she definitely fits that role for me. I’m looking to get a lot out of her from that wing spot.”
Freshmen wing Abby Lentz and classmate and center midfielder Elantra Waters have also proven to be offensive forces to be reckoned with this preseason.
“Elantra is a great defensive mid with a very good shot and very good foot skills, so I’m hoping that she can hit some long shots and keep some teams on their toes,” McNutt said.
Other offensive options include senior forward Zoe Ramirez and sophomore wings Autumn Erme, Sydney Ervin and Lily Tolbert.
The offense could also include four more freshmen in forward Teagon Foster and wings Marina Adams, Nicole Kiss and Emma Solarek.
McNutt said his team’s offense will come from an “all-around team effort.”
“I like to be very offensive,” he continued. “I like to possess the ball and I like to move the ball around.”
In addition to Engelien and Seeman, Maumee graduated a trio of important defensive players from 2018 in Faith DeArmond, Paige Loboschefski and Abbe Rank (now playing at Defiance College).
The Panthers still return a number of other crucial defenders, however, including senior sweeper Natalie Winkle and classmate and goalkeeper Leyse Smith.
Winkle is a two-time all-district selection and earned second-team NLL honors as a sophomore and Smith recorded 143 saves last year as a junior.
“It’s going to be a pretty young defense, so good leadership from Natalie will help us out back there a lot,” McNutt said.
Moving in to replace DeArmond, Loboschefski and Rank in the back row will be the quartet of senior Hailey Binkowski, sophomores Aubrey Hiles and Lynkin Williams and freshman Hailey Hughes.
A final freshman, Amya Miles, also could see time for the Panthers on defense.
“If we win games 1-0, then we win them 1-0,” McNutt said. “I want our team to be solid defensively.”
At the time of The Mirror’s interview with McNutt, Maumee was planning to field a junior varsity team as well.
“We won’t have a full JV schedule, but we’re looking to go with a shortened version,” he said. “We want everyone to play instead of sitting on the sidelines.”
The Panthers will open the season at Bowsher at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 17 and will begin their NLL season at Northview on August 28.
“Some people might think it’s outrageous, but I’m shooting for a top-three finish,” McNutt said. “If we can put it all together – you never know. The girls are playing so well together this offseason that they are giving me a lot of confidence. You have to shoot for perfection and settle for excellence if you don’t get there.”
McNutt is Maumee’s sixth coach over the past 21 years and fifth in the last eight seasons.
He has more than 20 years of experience after coaching everywhere from youth leagues to junior college.
His stops have included the Toledo Celtics Soccer Club, both St. John’s Jesuit and Toledo Central Catholic high schools, Owens Community College and Northeastern Junior College.
McNutt was born in Toledo and was the starting goalkeeper at Central Catholic for three years before graduating in 1995.
He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology from The University of Toledo in 2001.
In addition to taking over the Panthers girls soccer program, McNutt has also joined the Maumee Express coaching staff.