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Youth in bloom: Lionettes soccer loaded with underclassmen talent
The McKinney girls soccer season is off to a promising start.
Perhaps most promising for McKinney is the potential the team has for continued success for seasons to come as several key Lionettes starters are freshmen.
McKinney started the season 5-0-1, including a recent 2-0 win against cross-town rival McKinney North.
"The girls are playing well," said Alex Pantarotto, McKinney head coach. "Our main strength is our chemistry; that helps in a lot of ways. All of our players make our team better, I'm confident of that. They're just good players."
The Lionettes are led by senior team captains Natalie Throneberry and Lizzie Navarette, who, in addition to Toni Badali, are the only senior starters on the squad. McKinney has more freshmen starting than seniors as Alyssa Garner, Morgan Ford, Devon Prince and Jada Holmes have all made their presence felt in their first season in the program.
Garner and Prince are midfielders for McKinney.
"I expect a lot out of Alyssa," Pantarotto said. "I like how she plays in the midfield. She helps us out a lot with the distribution. And Devon is developing well. She has a real strong foot."
The Lionettes' young talent is spread throughout the field. In addition to the freshmen at midfield, he also has Ford at forward and Holmes playing defender.
"Morgan is a very quick player and she's adapting very well," Pantarotto said. "She's another great freshman. Jada is another outstanding player; she's so strong physically and has very good skills."
As for areas of concern, Pantarotto would like to see his players display more of an aggressive mindset when they're near the goal.
"We need to shoot more," he said. "We try to pass more often instead of taking the first shot that we get at the goal. That's something we need to develop, that killer instinct. It's nothing physically that they can't do; it's all mental."
While Pantarotto is encouraged by his team's youthful potential, he understands things may be more difficult this year now that McKinney has been realigned into Class 5A and put into a district with McKinney Boyd, Plano West, Plano Senior, Plano East and Allen.
"Having so many great freshmen, that's a good thing for us for the next few years," he said. "The only thing is that we're in 5A, but we don't have a 5A roster. We don't have the amount of players that the other schools have to choose from."
Pantarotto and his players aren't making any excuses though.
"That's part of being a Lion," Pantarotto said. "We never back down, we play wherever we need to play and do the best we can with what we've got. I've always been very blessed by having a good group of kids that every year keeps delivering wins for the program."
Adding more pressure to the Lionettes' season is the fact 10-5A is considered among the toughest districts in the state. West is the defending Class 5A State Champion and currently ranked No. 1 in the country by Elite Soccer Report while Boyd, another recent state champ, is No. 18.
"This is the difficult part," Pantarotto said. "The objective is to make the playoffs, but we know we're up against some good teams."
The Lionettes are ready for the challenge ahead, hoping to extend their program's reputation of consistent playoff berths by another season. They may be in a new district, but the expectations haven't changed as McKinney has regularly made the postseason, but also won its district six of the last seven years.
"I'm pleased with the results," Pantarotto said. "But we as coaches always want to continue building and moving forward, and we're doing that at McKinney."