Playoff loss from last year motivating Panthers
1/15/2015 5:08 PM

It's a new group, but many of Kingwood Park's players still remember last year's disappointing playoff exit – a 7-6 shootout loss to former district foe Spring Woods – and want to do better.

The long road back began with last week's season-opening Humble ISD Invitational.

"We wanted to go a lot further last year, but the effort was there," coach Jess White said. "The shots just weren't going in, and once it goes to PKs anything can happen.

"This year we know it's a new slate, new season, and we have a new district, we're going to a different tournament this year, and we have to shape our individuals and our team to fit the new demands so we can try to accomplish some of our goals."

The new tourney is this weekend's Northwest ISD tournament in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which K-Park opens Thursday against Southlake Carroll.

The new district is 21-5A, which includes Humble, New Caney, Porter, Crosby, Galena Park and C.E. King. K-Park was with Humble, Summer Creek, Stratford, Spring Woods and Northbrook last year.

"The biggest thing it helps us with right away is travel," White said. "Sometimes it'd be easy to get stuck on the Beltway and it'd take two hours just to get to the Spring Branch schools.

"So it's a little bit more convenient travel-wise."

Life without a host of key players who graduated isn't as convenient.

Goalkeeper Kaitlin Sterner is at Houston, forward Vanessa Valadez is at SMU, and defender Kasey Stokdyk is gone, too.

"That senior class was a tremendous senior class, and we lost a forward, a couple midfielders, a defender and a goalkeeper, so we knew there was going to be a period of adjustment," White said.

"Not only from the standpoint of talent on the field, with those girls graduating, but also leadership-wise, because all of those girls who graduated had been on varsity for at least three years."

The top returning players are junior midfielders Kobi McNutt and Claire Tolbert, junior forward McKenzie Leeand standout senior defender Holland Ensminger, a fourth-year starter on varsity.

K-Park also welcomed back senior D Avery Harlan, sophomore MF/D Maddie Guerra, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, and added several new starters, including GK Emma Pinkerton.

The Humble ISD tourney was their first opportunity to work together, and they went 2-1, with wins over Magnolia and Santa Fe.

Guerra's header off a corner kick gave the Panthers the win over Magnolia.

"Whether it's a returner or a new player, everybody's going to have new roles," White said. "Everybody's going to have new responsibilities. And one of those roles is somebody teaching somebody else, so they can all step up together, and for others it's adjusting to that level of varsity play."

Ensminger is playing center back, outside back and defensive center mid this season.

"She is prepared, and we've talked about her bouncing around based upon the demands of each opponent," White said. "And she's taken on a leadership role.

"She, along with Kobi and Avery Harlan are our three captains this year."

McNutt is playing up top more, along with attacking mid, but she's adjusting to moving without the ball more.

"She's always been a very good distributor of the ball, and she's got the speed and skill to take people on," White said. "We're going to try to get her closer to goal, with having that forward role up there, and we've got somebody who can play the attacking mid position and dish the ball out to her."

Lee's another capable scorer who's versatile enough to play at every level, and even spell Pinkerton in goal.

She scored the team's first goal not off a set piece of penalty kick against Santa Fe.

The Panthers lost 3-1 to Baytown Sterling in the Humble tourney opener, sending them to 2-1 on the opening week.

District play begins Jan. 23 at C.E. King.

"We want to go up there (to the Northwest ISD tourney) and continue to develop our teamwork, as far as where we are on the field with each other, our defensive spacing, and just continue to progress," White said.

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