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Girls soccer: Numbers on the rise for Irish

Senior captains Marisa Knott, Kaylie Hanson and Maddie Bleick are back to lead the Irish girls soccer team this fall.

The numbers alone provide reason for optimism when it comes to the Rosemount girls soccer program.

More than 125 girls turned out to the first day of practice on Monday, which will allow the Irish to once again field five teams — a varsity, a JV, a sophomore team and two freshman teams. The varsity went just 6-9-2 last fall, ending a streak of three straight 11-win seasons, but nine returning letter-winners and the large turnout at this week's try-outs give head coach Kevin Adams confidence that he will once again be able to field a talented varsity lineup.

"Our program has become stronger and the talent pool for making varsity is very deep.... This eleveates the level of play for all our teams. We had a strong JV class last season and we expect to see some of those players take that next step this season, but they will also be pushed by the talent at the freshman and sophomore levels," Adams said. "We also have more players than ever playing high levels in the summer and staying with the high school program in the fall."

Among those returning to the Irish lineup are three senior captains who Adams expects to provide great leadership — honorable mention all-conference selections Maddie Bleick and Marisa Knott, as well as midfielder Kaylie Hanson.

Bleick is expected to make the move to outside defender this season and Knott will move between midfielder and forward.

"(Bleick) has the speed, intelligence and skills to get up field and into the attack and help generate scoring chances. Her leadership and maturity will be an asset and she will be one of our anchors in the back," Adams said. "Marisa plays with poise and purpose and sees the field very well. She has a natural left foot with power so her ability to cross balls into the goal area from the left will be an asset to our attack."

Bleick and Knott's ability to help out on the offensive end will take on added importance this fall as the Irish try to replace the production lost to the graduation of top scoring threat Hannah Halterman. Returning forwards Anna Grausnick, Jordan Hill and Kaitlyn DeBaun will also have the chance to step into larger roles offensively.

"Replacing the No. 2 scorer in the program during my six-year tenure will not be easy. With that said, we have a veteran group of players returning who are playmakers and have the ability to create scoring threats every time they touch the ball," Adams said. "We are looking for them to step up collectively."

Joining Bleick on the defensive end are returning letter-winners Kylee Carr and Brenna Sullivan.

"Defensively, we should continue to be strong," Adams said.

Depth is also a strength at the goaltender position where the Irish will replace long-time varsity starter Kate Mallory. Rachel Collins and Jess O'jala split time on the JV team last year and are among those competing for the starting job this fall.

Adams is hoping things can come together quickly for his team, with the first game of the regular season coming up a week from today at Northfield. The Irish play five games in a nine-day span to start the season, and then open a tough conference schedule with a road game at Prior Lake on Tuesday, Sept. 3.

"In the South Suburban, you don't get a day off. You need to compete hard every game if you want to have success," he said. "Gelling early and developing a consistent level of play will be important."