The new girls varsity soccer head coach at Mansfield Senior High School has a plan to build the program in the years ahead — on and off the field — and he’s counting on his senior captain to play a major role in getting it started this season.

“Everyone loves to win but that’s not the end game,” said Jon VanHouten, who moved into the head coaching role this season. “Ten years from now we want the Lady Tygers to be successful in this community. We hope soccer is part of the foundation of that success.”

VanHouten is counting heavily on the leadership of senior captain Maranda Cline who he describes as “like having another coach on the field.” Maranda is the centerpiece of what we’re trying to do,” he said. “She comes up with ideas and leadership on her own. You can’t coach that.”

For her part, the soft-spoken Cline is all about team.“I am ready to do whatever coach tells me to do,” she said, acknowledging that the Lady Tygers are in a bit of a reloading year after losing nine seniors. “When you lose that many players it leaves a dent. There are big shoes to fill but the juniors and others are stepping up.”

While formal practice began Aug. 1, the Ohio High School Athletic Association allowed 10 days of open field sessions in July when players could practice and scrimmage on their own without coaching.

“Those open field sessions were fun,” Cline said. “We supported and encouraged each other. I think the most important thing is that we accept one another for who we are and what we do, not just winning.”

VanHouten said the team’s non-coaching open field sessions were key in preparing for formal practices. “They helped to build camaraderie, which is most important. This team is jelling together, mainly because of Maranda,” he said.

VanHouten, a 16-year member of the Lexington Police Department, served as an assistant to head coach Brad Kentosh last year. Because of Kentosh’s other demands – he’s chair of the science department at Senior High – the two men switched roles this year.

VanHouten also encourages his players to be involved in the community. Last week they helped a local church distribute food to those in need in Central Park. Earlier they assisted at a soccer camp for young children sponsored by the New Mansfield Soccer Club. “The girls practiced from 4 to 6 p.m. then stayed until 8 p.m. to help with the camp four days in a row,” VanHouten said.

Cline said helping at the camp was fun for the entire team. “We enjoyed it. It was amazing how the younger girls looked up to us,” she said. “I tried to emphasize not only soccer skills but also good classwork.”

Cline is as successful in the classroom as she is on the soccer field. She just completed an ethics course at North Central State College and her demanding senior academic schedule will include English and anatomy courses at NCSC. Her goal is to become a pediatric physical therapist.

“Soccer is a very strategic sport with a lot of moving pieces, deciding who is best where,” VanHouten said. “The high school game is 80 minutes long, two 40-minute halves. Over the course of the game players will run three to five miles.”

Cline is primarily a defender – the last line of defense before the goalie. VanHouten expects that she will play virtually every minute of every game. “You get tired,” Cline acknowledged, “but you keep going. You fight through it.”

The Lady Tygers will open at home Saturday at 10 a.m. against Lima Senior.

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