Kylie Bowers had just scored the biggest goal of her brief high school soccer career, though the uber-shy freshman’s reaction never showed it.
As long as her foot keeps doing the talking for her, that’s just fine for the Bambies of St. Hubert.
Bowers deposited the game-winning goal about halfway through the second overtime in a 2-1, come-from-behind victory at previously undefeated Little Flower last Thursday. She was on the receiving end of a pass from senior forward Elizabeth “Biff” Jones, who had scored the goal that tied the game at 1 with 29 minutes to go in the second half.
It was a statement win for a team still trying to find its way while blending experienced players like Jones with freshmen such as Bowers, midfielder Dominique Calio and goalie Brianna Pudlo, with the latter two already sliding into starting roles. Bowers wasn’t in the starting lineup, but she has scored in five consecutive games (the last three of them wins), and her six total goals have served as a burst of energy for a team looking to hit its stride through nine games.
When asked to break down how her winning goal developed, the poker-faced freshman barely squeaked, “I just stood there, she (Jones) passed it to me and I hit it in.” And had it sunk in yet that a freshman who could count her number of varsity games played on two hands had just dealt one of the team’s biggest rivals its first loss of the season?
“I guess not,” she said with a laugh.
Bowers’ timid nature by no means indicates that she’s not thrilled by her sudden emergence. Rather, she’s more of an example of an extremely young player, who just started high school less than a month ago, still coming out of her shell. It will most certainly take time for her confidence to develop; in the meantime, she hasn’t shied away from the spotlight on the field, as her play has done plenty of talking for her.
“We’re always yelling at her, just trying to show her it’s OK to be vocal out there,” Jones said. “The young players are doing well, and we just keep encouraging them. As our coach always tells us, it doesn’t matter what grade you’re in … when you’re out there on that field, you’re a soccer player like everyone else.”
Longtime head coach Mick McGroarty has shown no reticence in putting his younger players out there. In some instances, he hasn’t had a choice — in the case of Pudlo, McGroarty has her in net because starter Emily Jeffrey is injured. Pudlo, like Bowers, was fantastic against Little Flower (6-1-1, 4-1-1 league), making several huge saves as her team climbed back into it.
The win was somewhat of a turning point for the Bambies (6-3, 4-1), who have sometimes struggled with consistency in the season’s early chapters. Following the Little Flower win, St. Hubert made short work of Chichester (4-0) and Neumann-Goretti (8-1) and was tied for third in the league with Archbishop Ryan when the Times went to press.
“We figured it was going to take some time for the freshmen to catch on, chemistry wise,” McGroarty said. “Like a chess match, we’re still trying to find the right pieces to put in the right spots. We had five freshmen and three sophomores playing in the Little Flower game, and all of them have different styles and abilities. We’re still figuring out how to mesh it all together.”
McGroarty has been around long enough to know that the best way to build confidence in inexperienced players is to throw them right into the mix from the get-go, forcing them to earn their stripes in the Catholic League in a baptism-by-fire type of scenario. So far, they’ve responded.
For Bowers, it was a goal scored in the Bambies’ tight 3-2 loss to Ryan, one of the top teams in the city, on Sept. 17 that made her believe she belonged. Pudlo, fresh up from the JV team, looked like a seasoned veteran between the posts against Little Flower.
“I thought Brianna has looked calm, cool and collected, and she’s made the saves she’s had to make, some of them pretty decent,” McGroarty said. “And for Kylie, I think she’s starting to get the idea. In the beginning, her confidence was a little down. I think she found out it’s much harder than expected at the varsity level. Her personality is subdued and she doesn’t say much, but most freshmen tend to stay withdrawn.
“She’s more of a follower now, but I think that leadership is there. In the game at Ryan, there were probably around 500 people there, maybe more, and she played really well on that stage. She’s starting to get the idea that if she puts forth the effort, she’ll get a good result. It’s starting to come around.”
Of course, it certainly helps having such an experienced player up top in Jones, who is equally adept in scoring goals as she is in captaining the Bambie ship. Also a standout basketball player, the hard-nosed, tough Jones already has four multi-goal games, and 11 total in nine games.
Can the Bambies hang around in the rough and tumble Catholic League, which features plenty of talented teams like Little Flower, Wood, Lansdale Catholic and Ryan? Jones thinks so.
“It feels good to come back strong from that loss to Ryan, because we felt we could have won that game,” she said. “It just gives us confidence. After a game like this, it makes me think we’ve got a shot to get to the championship. We’re still getting used to each other. I haven’t played with a lot of these girls before this year, so we’re just starting to click. We’re ready for the challenge, and we want to play the best teams.”
As far as the Bambies’ postseason prospects, McGroarty offered a, “We’re still a work in progress, so we’ll see.” But if the youngsters keep coming along while Jones continues scoring goals at such a rapid rate, they’ll have as good a shot as anyone. So far, Bowers is just enjoying the ride, even if she doesn’t always let on to that fact.
“My teammates are always helping me and always telling me that I’m doing well,” she said. “They’re always trying to help. I’m just really happy.” ••