CONYERS - The Rockdale girls soccer team will be young this year, but coach Patrick Batubenge is hoping his talented squad can overcome its inexperience.
The Lady Bulldogs open their 2008 campaign Monday against visiting South Gwinnett at 5:30 p.m. at Reid Memorial Stadium.
"We are fairly young but talented," Batubenge said. "We are hoping that the lack of experience will be compensated by the hard work and the desire to perpetuate a tradition of excellence in the program."
Last year, the Lady Bulldogs, who finished 13-6, notched their third straight playoff berth under Batubenge. Rockdale won the 8-AAAA South title, finished third in the region playoffs and then lost to Chapel Hill 4-2 in the first round of the state playoffs.
The Lady Bulldogs have nine players returning off last year's squad: Senior Betsey Avery, junior Rebecca Carlin, junior Sarah Kustick, junior Katie Koch, junior Tiffany Story, sophomore Nicole Young, sophomore Lauren Coursey, sophomore Lindsay Geise and sophomore Emily Boyer.
Kustick and Young, both defenders, were first-team selection on the Citizen's 2007 All-Area Girls Soccer Team.
The key losses off Rockdale's squad from last year are forward Jessica Woodson, goalkeeper Holly Dean and defender Nicole Schimmel. All three players were first-team All-Area picks. Woodson tallied a team-high 30 goals and 17 assists last year.
Batubenge has several new players on this year's squad that might make an impact. They are Chelsea Draper, Landy Zepeda, Mary Cortes, Ashley Peterson and LaTrisha Jackson.
"We have more speed than we have ever had since I have been running the program," Batubenge said. "We also have a great team chemistry, which is making it easy for the new players to integrate smoothly. The speed should help us improve our transition game, which has always been a problem in the past.
"Injuries are a concern for us. We have one key player on the injury list and two being watched closely."
Batubenge feels his schedule this season will pay dividends for his young squad.
"We have an extremely challenging season ahead of us, especially on the road," he said. "The key for us this year is to learn and acquire experience for the years to come."
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at email@example.com.
SideBar: At a glance
Team: Rockdale Girls Soccer
Coach: Patrick Batubenge (fourth season)
Last year: 13-6 overall, 4-1 subregion; lost to Chapel Hill 4-2 in first round of state playoffs
First game: Monday vs. South Gwinnett at 5:30 p.m.