The Rowland Hall girls soccer team suffered a major loss well before its first game.
Coach Jamie Wilhite informed her squad three days before the Winged Lions' first game that three top players were quitting. Gone were two all-state players who led the team in scoring last season and the starting goalkeeper.
The news forced the team to start five freshmen and left a void in leadership and talent. But the Winged Lions decided to face an uncertain future with resolve.
"Losing key players made us look to ourselves and build with who we have," senior Cari Sanyer said.
Sanyer, a co-captain, wanted to push Rowland Hall past last year's disappointing loss in the 2A quarterfinals. She's one of two seniors left, and she views her last season as a chance to make a lasting impact on the underclassmen.
"I want us to grow and build through these challenges," Sanyer said. "Whether we win or not, coming together as a team will have a better outcome for us."
Wilhite is proud of her team for rising to the occasion and being resilient.
"We could have sat around and sung 'Kumbaya,' but instead we decided to move forward as a team," Wilhite said.
Adjustments were made from top to bottom, including moving sophomore Grace Veghte from fullback to forward. Veghte, who is described as a natural leader, joins Sanyer as a co-captain. She was chosen unanimously.
"We knew it would be tough, but we wanted to be positive and play as hard as we could," Veghte said. "Everyone has dedicated themselves to the team."
Rowland Hall started the season with four losses before winning its next two.
The young squad has not been deterred. Every game is a learning experience, and the Winged Lions hope this season's lessons pay off as the younger players mature.
"You can see them make good decisions, good touches," Wilhite said. "Considering how much time they've been together and their youth, you can't help being excited about how promising they are." Winged Lions soccer
Rowland Hall had recorded its first victory of the year against Legacy Prep Academy, 4-1.
Freshman goalkeeper Nicole Wozniak had less than a day's notice before starting for Rowland Hall.