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High School Sports Preview: Rash of injuries sometimes part of girls soccer

The injury bug is often unpredictable in high school sports, striking seemingly at random and without thought to the impact or consequences.

Two area girls soccer teams illustrate that point all too well.

First there’s Woodstown, a Group II school that reached the South Jersey final and graduated a handful of key seniors from that team. Then the Wolverines took more hits in the spring and summer when seniors Astasia Williams-Bertles and Alexa DiGregorio both suffered injuries – the former a torn ACL and the latter a patellar tendon problem that required surgery.

“We can’t replace those two girls,” said Woodstown co-coach Lauren Morgan. “Stasia was our ballwinner in the midfield, our general as my husband (co-coach Jamie Morgan) said. She has come to every summer practice, every fall practice when she can’t set a foot on the field, that’s a true captain. Alexa is so quiet, but so strong up front.”

The Wolverines will have to, however, and the good news is that in addition to five returning starters several letterwinners will now slide into starting spots to replace those lost to graduation or injury. That includes senior backs Lexus Black and Natalie Wulderk, who missed much of last season with injuries.

The team’s depth is being tested, but may be up to the challenge as Woodstown tries to make another deep playoff run.

“Our defenders have all been treating injuries the last couple of years, Lexus missed half to two-thirds of the season last year and Natalie missed all but one half of one game,” Lauren Morgan said. “This group defensively is finally, knock on wood, healthy. Offensively we graduated a lot of goals, we’re struggling more to figure out where to get those back.

“I think we had time to accept (the injuries) and start looking at other things. Both had surgery in early summer, and having this core of great kids they’ve been really good leaders and stepped up. It’s made a big difference. I think (a title is) always the aspiration going in. Realistically will it be a little harder? Yes. But having that strong core (will help).”

Now let’s look at Clayton, the smallest school in enrollment in the area and a team which graduated a top scorer in Maxie New from an inexperienced squad. Coach Chris Baker had three seniors back to lead his still-young team as it worked to get back to respectability this season, but the injury bug has been even less kind to the Clippers.

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Senior back and keeper Dannie Cowgill tore her ACL in one of the first practices of the preseason, and senior Kelsie Platt injured her knee in the summer and her future remains cloudy. In addition, four other players have suffered various health problems and most aren’t back as the season begins.

“I explained to some of the girls we’d go through growing pains because we’re so young, and we’d have to get used to playing with each other and playing varsity,” Baker said. “With our numbers, depth was a concern. Now it’s an even bigger concern. It’s going to be tough to field a JV team because we’re bringing girls up to fill some holes. Less experienced girls need to fill roles and do their jobs.

“Up until the last couple of years we’ve never dealt with injuries (like this), concussions, knee injuries. Last week we had 13 girls who were physically able to practice, and when you have numbers that small you have to change what you do at practice. The good thing for the girls that can practice is they get more touches on the ball, but it’s tough sometimes.”

The good news for Clayton is that is hasn’t dampened Baker’s enthusiasm, and he’s trying to transfer that to the team even as he regrets the loss of some of his veteran leaders. And that’s the key no matter how injuries affect you – the team still has to move on.

“I feel bad for Dannie and Kelsie because they’re seniors, but the core of our team is pretty much intact,” said Baker. “In training through the summer, I’ve stressed running because the majority of these girls will be playing most of the games. We’re basically going with a whole new lineup.

“I think we’ll get better as the season goes on. Health is the key word, but there’s nothing you can do about it. What I’m looking at is the younger girls to get some experience, and we’ve got good numbers coming up the next few years. We’re looking at the bigger picture, we’ve got a bright future ahead.”

Contact Scott Chappelear at 856-686-3614 or schappelear@southjerseymedia.com

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