Elizabeth James has taken the best shots her teammates have to offer, and now this fall, she’s testing her goalkeeping skills against the Columbus North boys.
The senior, who helped lead the Bull Dogs to within one game of the state finals last season, plans to practice with the boys a couple of times a week this season to further sharpen her skills. She committed in October to play at the University of Dayton.
“The guys obviously play a little bit of a different style,” James said. “Dayton just thought it would be a good idea for training, and I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be a good challenge and a different training atmosphere.”
Through the first two weeks of practice, James had practiced with the boys only once.
“It went great,” James said. “It was challenging. It was a little bit of a different atmosphere.
“I like it a lot because it’s a little bit quicker pace. I think it will help me prepare for college.”
North boys coach Andy Glover and first-year girls coach Derek Stewart don’t mind the arrangement.
“We’re always looking for the most competitive environment to put our players in, and I’ve had some discussions with coach Glover about mixing a few of our top players in with the boys every now and then just so we can create that competitive environment for them,” Stewart said.
“Good soccer is good soccer,” Glover said. “It doesn’t know boundaries in terms of gender or age. If you’re a quality player and you can fit into the training environment, we want to do what’s right for all the kids that are participating at Columbus North.
“I’m very open to that idea; and as long as the integrity of the training environment is maintained, we think it’s a fantastic opportunity and a win-win for any players that we might receive from our women’s team.”
James has been playing soccer since age 6 and has always been a goalkeeper.
“When I was little, it was more of a physical thing because I was taller than everyone,” the 6-foot James said. “That’s kind of how I got started with it, and I really enjoyed it and grew with it.”
After missing her freshman year with an injury, James split time with Sarah Ferguson as sophomore, when North was the state runner-up. James took over full time last year and earned third-team All-State honors.
“She’s very agile, she’s extremely tall and covers a lot of the goal, and she’s extremely quick,” Stewart said. “She has quick feet and quick reaction. She can run on the field with most of our players and also play in goal. She’s extremely technical, a very gifted goalkeeper. She reads the shots extremely well, cuts the angle down and has quick feet and quick hands.”
James was one of two Division I recruits set to return for North. However, Marquette recruit Morgan Proffitt suffered a torn ACL playing club soccer this summer and underwent surgery that likely will sideline her for the entire season. Proffitt is in the USA Soccer U18 national team training pool.
“It’s a huge loss for us,” Stewart said. “She was really the heart of our midfield, and she’s so strong on the ball. She has a very strong shot, very accurate, and she reads the game extremely well. She’s just a really gifted player, and it’s just unfortunate that she’s not going to be able to play with us this year.”
The Bull Dogs also lost 12 seniors, including five starters, to graduation. Returning along with James are seniors Malissa Hofmeister and Michelle Amlung, who played in the back but could move up to the midfield, and juniors Kenadie Carlson and Gabby Sims, who have played in midfield and could move to forward positions.
“We still have a core group of girls coming back that have strong leadership that are going to carry the team through this season,” Stewart said. “That’s probably the core group of girls that will be mentoring the younger players and bringing them along.”
“It’s going to be a different lineup because we lost 12 seniors, but I think we’re going to fill those missing holes well,” James said. “I think we’re going to be a stronger unit. I think definitely, it’s a goal to get back (to semistate) and obviously improve off of the result we got last year, and I think we can do that and keep the goals we achieved last year of (winning) sectional and regional.”
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