The Hannibal girls soccer team will rely on a variety of dynamic scorers to chase championships this season.
Shelby Stine will have a target on her back after shattering a school record with 41 goals last season.
The Hannibal girls soccer team is well aware of the attention its star senior forward will receive.
But with most every starter back from a 15-6 campaign, the Lady Pirates are confident they possess more than just one formidable threat this spring.
Joining Stine on the offensive attack are sophomore midfielders Kaylee Falconer and Peyton Utterback, who return after each scored more goals last season than any previous freshman in program history.
Falconer (23) and Utterback (18) combined to match Stine with 41 goals a year ago, when Hannibal finished in second place in the North Central Missouri Conference.
“The teams that we've played multiple times, especially in conference, they're going to key in on Shelby a lot knowing the number of goals she scored last year,” Lady Pirates coach Eric Hill said. “But we have other players that can step up and score like Kaylee and Peyton, and I think we've got some more people who can step up and surprise some people.”
The high-scoring trio of Stine and the standout sophomores will be supported by junior forward Haley Ballinger, who led the team with 14 assists last season and also tallied 12 goals.
Junior Maddie Janes returns to join Falconer in the center midfield after being out more than half of last season due to injury. Senior Grace McIntosh rounds out the midfield on the opposite wing as Utterback.
Senior Shelby Nelson will be back as starting goalkeeper after missing last season with a broken wrist.
“We're honestly bringing some key parts back that we lost last year,” Hill said. “We ought to be able to function just about the same as we were and maybe build upon it with another year of experience.”
Senior Chloe Ebers is again primed to be an anchor for the Lady Pirates defense from her stopper position. The former midfielder often pushes up field and led Hannibal defenders with seven goals last year.
Ebers noted the expectations for the team this season are as high as ever.
“For four years, we've been really good,” the senior said. “We've had such a solid team. This year is the same way. We have almost all our returning starters and I'm excited.”
Beside Ebers on defense will be junior Hannah Nichols at right back and sophomore Abby Baumann at left back.
Serving as the last line of defense before Nelson will be junior Suzanne Wetton, who is pencilled in to replace graduated Kylie Stroud as sweeper.
“There are some differences she's still getting used to, but she's intelligent in the classroom and out here on the field too and she's going to pick up on it real well,” Hill said of Wetton. “I think she will be a great vocal leader for us from the back."
The Hannibal program comprises 23 players this year, which is down from previous seasons.
This makes health of the utmost importance.
“We just need to stay healthy,” Hill said. “Obviously every coach wants that every year, but it's maybe more important for us right now than it ever has been with the numbers we have.”
McIntosh mentioned there is strong leadership on the squad with five seniors. She pointed out that despite the smaller size of the program this season there remains plenty of talent in the pipeline.
“It's nice to see as a senior that we have leaders coming up through the roots that are experienced, who know what they're doing and can teach the girls behind them as well,” she said.
The Lady Pirates are scheduled to open the season at home against Quincy on Friday night.
Stine, who is committed to continue her career at Hannibal-LaGrange, will play an integral role in helping the Lady Pirates gun for the conference and district titles.
The senior, who recorded 11 assists and a team-record 93 points last season along with six game-winning goals, has earned the respect of her teammates.
“Shelby is just always making great runs, and when we get her the ball, she puts it in almost every time,” Falconer said.
The Lady Pirates are on a mission to prove Stine is not alone.
“I think she's going to be an even better player for us this year,” Hill said of the prolific scorer. “Some of what she may have to learn to do more is setting her teammates up because the defenses are really going to try to take her away, but I think her assist total could jump big-time.”