Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Replacing five graduates isn’t easy. When you’ve got nine returning seniors, however, the task becomes easier.
That’s the reality for head coach Aaron Eldridge and the Durango High School girls soccer program, which was 8-6-2 last year. When the Demons suit up for today’s season opener against Grand Junction Central, nine seniors, along with several other key returning players, will be in uniform, looking to start a run they hope ends with the Southwestern League championship and a long postseason stay.
“I think the leadership of this group is going to be really strong,” Eldridge said.
A few members of last year’s junior class, however, won’t be a part of the roster this season:
Fort Lewis College signee Savannah Seiter, a versatile midfielder, tore her ACL and is expected to miss the entire season.
Goalkeeper Abby Surmeier and defender Tessa Wickstrom opted not to play this year for what Eldridge termed personal reasons, adding the wear and tear the physical Surmeier endured throughout the softball and basketball seasons may have played a role in her decisions.
“We’re not the team we were looking at at the beginning of the year, but I think we’re going to be pretty strong,” Eldridge said.
Durango’s main offensive catalyst, however, will be back. Brooke Milliet led DHS in scoring the last two seasons, including a 10-goal campaign a season ago, and the FLC signee will look to add to that total as a senior.
Still, senior defender Amanda Urban said the Demons will look to lessen Milliet’s load this season.
“One of our team goals this year is to really diversify who scores the goals and makes the assists,” she said.
The offensive effort will be aided by a healthy Raquel Delgado, who was hampered by an ankle injury last season. Eldridge said freshman Lauren Milliet, Brooke’s sister, should be a key contributor, as will sophomore Stephanie Wilson, who was a pleasant surprise for DHS a season ago.
Seiter’s loss will be felt heavily in the midfield, but the Demons boast enough quality players to fill the gaps. Meghan O’Brien was an All-Southwestern League second-team selection a year ago, and Eldridge said he expects contributions from a group of players including Stephanie Ogier and Jocelyn Zemach in the midfield this year.
O’Brien said Seiter’s loss gives other players a chance to showcase their skills.
“Losing Savannah was definitely a big, tragic event that happened to us this year, but we have really good other players that can play in the center,” said O’Brien, daughter of Michael and Wendy O’Brien.
Defensively, the Demons will lean on a group that includes Urban, Amanda Jones, Erin Maxwell and Taylor Woolverton, among others, to limit chances against a fairly untested goalkeeping corps.
Surmeier and the graduated Jessica Thulson shared the net last season, not leaving many opportunities for anyone else. The job this year likely falls to senior Karlee Mulkey, and despite her lack of varsity experience, her teammates have faith in her ability.
“I feel ... we’re still going to be comfortable with Karlee or Hannah (Robertson) behind our back,” said Urban, daughter of Jeff and Lynn Urban.
With the pieces in place, the question now remains whether DHS can pilot itself into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in Eldridge’s seven years at the helm. The head coach, for his part, is optimistic.
“We’re strong enough, and we’re going to get better as the year goes along,” Eldridge said. “I think our goal is that league championship and then, again, trying to win that playoff game and go on as deep as we possibly can.”