AYER -- Filing out rosters has been a major concern in recent years for the Ayer-Shirley girls' soccer program. With a limited number of kids in the school, the goal hasn't necessarily been winning as much as it has been competing. But 2012 could be a different story for the Lady Panthers.
Veteran coach Justin Carlson has fielded the deepest squad in his tenure at Ayer-Shirley. Along with the quantity of kids, there is talent on the roster that should make the Lady Panthers an interesting team to watch throughout the season.
Guiding Ayer-Shirley into battle this season will be senior captain Ginger Gamelin and junior captain Holly Caires. "Ginger is a starting midfielder who will see time both inside and outside," said Carlson. "She is a four-year starter for us and has a ton of experience. Ginger is a physical player who makes good decisions with the ball and is a solid all-around player.
"Holly will start at forward and is the best finisher on the team. She is experienced as she enters her third year as a starter. Holly has good speed and agility and will be a key to our offense this season."
Starting alongside Caires at forward will be freshman Cayla Justice. "While Cayla is only a freshman, she anticipates things very well," said Carlson. "She can finish with both feet, is aggressive and has a great work ethic."
In the midfield, Gamelin will be joined by sophomores Cassidy Manna and Olivia Warlia along with freshman Hailie Young.
Occupying the two outside fullback spots for the Lady Panthers will be sophomore Tina Babcock and freshman Victoria Cuoco. "Tina is very athletic and intelligent," said Carlson. She knows the game and is rarely out of position. Tina has a nose for the ball and uses her aggression to her advantage. Victoria has the physical tools. She is fast and physical and is doing a nice job of picking up the game quickly."
Rounding out the defense will be sophomore sweeper Justine Carrillo and sophomore stopper Megan Kreuger. "Justine is much improved over last season and really has impressed me in the early going," said Carlson. "She is a vocal leader of defense, has a strong leg and is very tough. Megan leads by example and is always in good position. She is a tough player who is willing to do anything to help out the team."
Getting the start in net for Ayer-Shirley will be junior Melissa Belanger. "This will be the first year for Melissa playing keeper for us, but she is learning the position very quickly," said Carlson. She has a great attitude and work ethic and is coming along nicely."
Fighting for time in the midfield will be senior Amber Thompson, junior Emily Goodman and freshman Madalyn Jorge. "Amber really put in a good off-season and her improvement has shown, especially on her crosses," said Carlson. "Emily has good size and a strong leg and will be a target for us on set plays in front of the net. Madalyn is very talented and physical, I'm looking for her to be a little more consistent on a daily basis, but she has the skills to be solid."
Looking to contribute on the defensive side of the ball will be senior Alejandra Santos and juniors Gabrielle Hebert and Amisha Lalotra. "Alejandra has a lot of experience and works very hard, but needs to be a little more solid on a daily basis," said Carlson. "Gabrielle is in her first year with the program, but is extremely athletic, has good size and is picking things up quickly. Amisha is a tough, aggressive player who has a strong work ethic and is enjoying her first year with us."
With a deep roster, littered with solid seniors and underclassmen, Carlson is looking forward to the season ahead. "This is a team with a good vibe right now that is the hardest working team I have had since I started coaching here," said Carlson. "I am very pleased with the turnout, it is easily the deepest team we have had. Right now, I feel like our program is pointing in the right direction and I think we will have a solid season."