Brock Netter, Staff Writer
KINNIKINNICK — Zane Trace’s girls soccer program is making changes to bring in some new energy and it’s turning to a pair of former players to do so.
Katie Watson, who earned a varsity letter all four years at ZT before graduating in 2015, was introduced as the Pioneers’ new head coach Thursday morning. Watson will replace her former coach, and veteran, George Sauer.
“The program has needed some new energy over the past couple of years and I’m excited to take over,” Watson said. “I think having someone who is younger with fresh ideas and someone who can relate to the girls a little more brings a new perspective. This is a great opportunity and I can’t wait to get started.”
Alongside Watson is Alli Jones, who also played four years at ZT and graduated in 2016. Jones also played three years at the University of Rio Grande. She’ll serve as the team’s junior varsity coach.
Additionally, the two will be joined by Kate DePugh, who originally started the girls’ soccer program at Zane Trace in 2003.
“Soccer is the main focus and the wins will come over time. But we’re focused right now on making the girls as well-rounded as possible,” DePugh said. “We want them to be more active in the community and have more team-oriented activities to build that chemistry to get the program back to where it once was. It’s the relationships you build along the way that makes coaching so rewarding. I’ve gone through it before and I’m ready to do it again with these girls.”
“We’re setting guidelines about how we want things to be as far as on-and-off the field etiquette goes,” Jones said. “We’re holding the girls accountable for their actions when it comes to how they treat refs, parents, coaches, opponents and each other. I want our girls to be proud of the program they represent just like we’re proud to be the coaches.”
During her four years, Watson played in back-to-back district finals in 2011 and 2012, ultimately capturing the crown in 2012 before bowing out in a Division III regional final.
Jones herself was also a part of that district championship team, acting as the team’s goalie as a freshman. She later helped the Pioneers make a shocking run to a district final during her senior year, despite winning just three regular season games in that 2015 season.
They are just two of the many great players that have graced the red and blue of Zane Trace, and they all want to get the program back to prominence in the same fashion it was just a few years ago.
“This is a new era for Zane Trace,” Watson said. “We’ve produced a ton of great soccer players over the years and we want to help guide the next pool of great players. But we know it’s not going to be easy. Winning takes time and right now, we want girls excited to play this year, the year after and so on. We’re stripping down the program to the bare minimum to build it right back up.
“It’s open competition at every position and for us, I think it’s important to meet the girls where their skill levels are. Back when I played, there were girls who had never played before and helping them improve to help close that gap of skills made us that much better. It’ll be much of the same for us once we get to see everyone play and we see where is at skill wise so we know what to work on.”
Watson, Jones and DePugh each have multiple connections to help them out along their journey. However, Zane Trace lost a big senior class that included leading scorer Haynna Addy and goalkeeper Lily Clark.
While players like Savannah Addy and Alexis Guffey are expected to return following last year’s 5-11-1 season, there are also a number of challenges in revamping the program.
But it’s a challenge the new coaches are ready for.
“We’re all on the same page coaching wise and we know needs to change moving forward,” Jones said. “Having been through the program just a few years ago, there are a lot of things that needed to be updated and rebuilt. Our main focus is being a team and earning that respect that we once had.”
“We want people excited to come to games and want the stands more full than they have been in the past,” Watson added. “Some of the girls have dealt with some disappointing seasons and we want to see that change for them. There’s great community support for Zane Trace and we want that being shown at girls soccer games.”