Last season the Jayhawk Conference had clear-cut, top three teams. Hutchinson, Butler and Johnson County handled the rest of the conference.
But in the previous years, the Barton Community College women’s soccer team was a part of that group.
This season the Cougars look to regain that status.
Barton finished tied for fourth with Allen County last season then defeated the Red Devils in a sudden death penalty kick in the post season. In the semifinals Barton came up just short of regular season champion Hutchinson 1-0 to end the season.
The coaches around the Jayhawk Conference see the 2015 race shaping up much like last season and have tabbed Barton fourth. Hutch is picked to win with Butler second and Johnson third. Allen comes in fifth.
Several players are back for the Cougars team that finished 9-7-3 but lost just once in their final five games.
In fact Barton will return seven players who played significant time last year and three that earned All-Conference.
Maria Rodriguez returns after being a first team All-Conference selection at midfield. Scarlett Real and Maria Munoz were second team picks at forward and midfield.
Real, a Utah native, led the Cougars last season with 11 goals and 24 points. Munoz, from Topeka, was third with four goals and a team high four assists for 12 points.
Rodriquez, from Garden City High School, defended a lot for the Cougars but still managed to score a pair of goals and garner an assist.
That trio started every game for the Cougars last season – the only three to do so.
Back in goal for Barton will be sophomore Maria-Elena Garcia. The Wichita South graduate started 13 games as a freshman and recorded two shutouts.
Also back with extensive starting experience is Carissa Butler. Butler started 18 games for the Cougars in the backline.
Also returning in the midfield is Sydne Harpenau. Harpenau scored twice for the Cougars as a freshman and played in all 19 games. Evelyn Rodriguez-Lerma played in 13 games for the Cougars her first season in midfield.
“It gives us a good core to build around,” Barton coach Aaron Avila said. “Three were All-Conference players as freshmen.”
While those seven will provide a core and leadership, the bulk of the team will be freshman. Barton will have 15 freshmen on the team this season and for the Cougars to move into that top three some of them will have to step up and contribute heavily.
“We do have a talented group of freshmen,” coach Avila said. “I am excited to see how well the team will come together. If we stay healthy, I believe we will be very competitive in our league.”
The Cougars will have some time to jell before battling one of the big three from last season. Barton will open with five non-conference games.
The home opener is set for Aug. 28 when Iowa Central comes to town. The Tritons were a Top 20 team from last season. The second home game will be against another ranked foe from last season when Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa comes to campus to close out the stretch of five non-conference games.
The Cougar will open conference play on Sept. 12 at Cowley. The first big test in conference for Barton will be a week later when the Cougars travel to Johnson.