What a difference a year makes.
Last spring, Oswego’s roster was loaded with upperclassmen, but 10 were seniors who turned in their Panther uniforms for good. It leaves the program rather young this year, but apparently in good hands.
“We replaced 12 players from last season and our overall athleticism is our biggest strength,” Oswego coach Kelsey Champion said. “We have a lot of talented underclassmen.”
That’s great news for the team, which is coming off a 10-9-1 season. While many of their players are young, some do return experience.
The Panthers welcome back senior forward Riley Parker, who scored nine times last year, and senior Indianapolis recruit Kaylee Zimbelmann, who also had nine goals last spring. Both players also scored 10 times as sophomores so both have been efficient and consistent and will now take on even larger roles in their final seasons.
“I think Riley and I have worked well together and playing together on the same club team has helped,” Zimbelmann said. “We complement each other. When one of us struggles, the other will kind of fill that hole so it’s been nice to have someone to play with all these years. Now having lost all those seniors we have a lot of us that need to fill those holes in order to be successful.”
They’ll look to pick up on the absence of Abby Grzetic, who had 16 goals and seven assists as one of the team’s other top offensive players the past two seasons.
Junior forwards Anaka Carlson and Jamie Mastro are two new faces on the team who will look to use their skills to also help Parker and Zimbelmann put the ball in the net.
The biggest concern for the Panthers is on defense. No longer will Champion be able to look in back knowing things are likely going to turn out OK with three-year starter and former captain, Carissa Brown anchoring the back line.
“We’re a much younger team than we’ve been in the past, but our sophomores and juniors are very good,” Zimbelmann said. “Everyone is hard-working and we all want to win so having that main goal of a winning season is a big thing.”
Zimbelmann said the team has the talent to be successful and that it doesn’t matter if her teammates are freshmen or seniors as long as they can contribute.
“I think the biggest thing with the younger kids is mental,” she said. “So we’re working a lot on our team chemistry and getting our confidence up and so that everyone on the team believes.”
The Panthers finished 6-3 in the Suburban Prairie Conference in 2017 and hope to contend for a conference title. While Plainfield North finally proved beatable last year, albeit just one time in conference (1-0 against Minooka), it still finished 8-1, but was battled down to the wire by the Panthers and into overtime by Oswego East before prevailing.
Oswego opens its season March 19 at Bartlett.
“We’re hoping to win conference and we think we have a pretty good team to do it,” Zimbelmann said. “It’s something that’s never been done here at Oswego so we kind of want to make a statement and step up against the other teams.”