The Bradshaw Mountain girls' soccer team a year ago found itself in every game in which it played. The Bears were competitive enough to play six overtime games - exactly half their schedule.
The problem was in finishing those games. The team ended the year with a 4-6-2 record.
Leading late in games was the good news, but losing those leads late cost Bradshaw plenty of chances. There was the time the Bears led Sedona by a goal in the final minute, only to see Sedona score and eventually win in OT. Then they lost a lead in the final five minutes against Prescott, and went to overtime again, although the Bears did prevail in the extra frame. And in their second meeting with Prescott, Bradshaw again led in the last minutes, but the Badgers scored to tie the match that eventually ended in a draw.
"I mean it happened to us all year long. The ball just rolled the wrong way," second-year varsity coach John Sterling said on Tuesday of this week.
The focus in 2013-14, particularly for the six returning varsity players, is protecting those leads and finishing games.
"They know that we've been in this situation before. We can do this," Sterling added. "We can come back. Half a dozen times last year. We can fight, we can scrap."
The Bears (2-0) got the new season started with a close 3-2 win over Shadow Ridge in Tuesday's opener. They then turned the tables on the pattern of late rallies Wednesday night at Buckeye. Bradshaw led 2-0 at the half but lost their lead. This time, though, with one minute left in regulation, senior forward Nia Baca scored her second goal of the night to seal the win.
Sterling is opting for a 4-1-3-2 style of play this winter, with occasional dips into a 4-2-3-1 depending on matchups. In the heart of their formations is returning senior defensive mid Heidi Madler.
Look for Madler to roam often and patrol her area to stop the opponent's attack. When the Bears spread out their attack, she'll still roam the midfield and basically fill the role as her side's on-field quarterback.
"She's the one they look to," Sterling said of Madler. "She's the leader on the field."
The Bears' back four includes seniors Jocelyn Nunez and Kiara Montoya as center backs. The left back spot belongs to sophomore Jennifer Pino, whose sister, Nicole, patrolled the center spot last year and is now playing at Mesa Community College. At right back, it's senior Sofia Villa.
In the midfield, senior center Fabiola Espinoza is flanked by sophomore Courtney Parsell on the right and sophomore Hannah Madler out on the left.
Up top in the attack, look for senior striker Taylor Hancock and Baca. While a player like Heidi Madler is the on-field leader, Sterling says Baca is the off-field spirit of the club.
"She's the life of the party," Sterling said. "She's the girl that keeps them in line when they're not on the field."
In goal for the Bears this winter is sophomore Joey Bobinsky, who's fresh off volleyball season that, in some ways, says Sterling, requires similar skill sets. "She's a volleyball player, she's got good hands," he laughed.
The Bears will carry 18 players on their roster this winter. Their schedule favors them for the most part, with only four road games this season, not including an "away" game at Ken Lindley Field in Prescott against the Badgers on Jan. 18.