MANKATO — The number of players in the high school soccer programs is down this year, but there's good reason.
Officials in District 77 decided after last season, when some programs were fielding as many as five teams, that they needed to whittle that down to a more manageable number. The solution was to cut seventh-graders out of the mix unless they could demonstrate enough ability to contribute on a varsity team.
The seventh-graders won't necessarily turn into couch potatoes, however, as the Mankato United Soccer Club has stepped in to fill the void. This year, for the first time in the club's history, it's fielding Under-13 fall traveling teams for boys and girls. Previously the fall teams only went up to the Under-12 level.
Despite the slightly lower numbers at Mankato East and West, their high school programs should remain healthy and competitive this season. Mankato Loyola, which doesn't fall under the District 77 umbrella, will still have seventh-graders in its programs.
Most teams open the season this week. Here is a brief overview of each team:
WEST GIRLS: With about 40 players in grades 8-12, coach Crissy Makela is making plans to get at least one more win this fall. A year ago her team lost to St. Peter in the Section 2A finals.
The Scarlets will have to do it without two big contributors — Breeta Oxnard and Cara Christiansen — who have graduated. Defense is where Makela figures to do the most rebuilding.
Offensively, senior Maddy Burandt is on pace to hold just about every school goal-scoring and points record.
Fellow senior McKenna Peters returns to hold down at center-back position, and senior Katie Lauer will again patrol the net for West. Seniors Taylor Marx, Sydney Malone and Sierra Storm worked hard to improve during the offseason and are expected to be major contributors this fall.