Change is nothing new to high school sports.
Coming off four straight sectional titles, the Oak Hill girls soccer team will be experiencing more than its fair share of change for the 2021 season.
However, the expectations stay the same.
Senior striker, Samiah Lynch, who scored the eventual game-winning goal in last year’s sectional championship win over Princeton, feels her team will be ready for the challenge.
“I think we can (win) it again this year as long as we keep working and training,” Lynch said. “We did lose some good seniors, but I think this team has the same amount of talent.”
The first noteworthy change for the Red Devils this year will be the head coaching position. Savannah Babcock has stepped down and Gerald Wilburn has stepped in for his first high school coaching position.
Wilburn moves up after three seasons at the middle school but says he has coached for 11 or 12 years overall.
The newly named head coach played football at Mt. Hope and played soccer until he was 16 years old. After high school he went on to be an accomplished punter and kicker for Glenville State College.
Although Wilburn is not totally a new face, coaching changes are never easy, especially in your senior season.
“I have always been around Savannah, so it was a little hard,” Lynch said about the coaching change. “However, coach Wilburn has been great so far and I am excited to see what happens this season.”
Personnel is the second big change impacting the girls team this year. Among the players lost to graduation were all-state honorees, Kiya Babkirk and Morgan Wills.
“Last year’s team made it to the regional championship game, but we lost seven seniors from that team. One of our best players, junior Kadence Lucas has an ACL tear, so we have lost her for the whole season. It will be a different team this year,” Wilburn said.
Lucas too was an honorable mention all-state selection last year.
“We are going to be really young and it could be a growing process as the year goes along. I don’t like to look at it that way, but it could be. I am here to compete and we will play hard,” Wilburn said.
Lynch also received all-state recognition last year and she will be playing her fourth year of high school soccer. She is also well aware that the scoring spotlight could be on her this season, but she also knows she has help.
“I think maybe there is a little bit of pressure on me to score, but my team really helps me out. I just try to be the best leader that I can be,” Lynch said.
The spotlight is not a totally new concept for Lynch who is a star basketball player and a key member of the Oak Hill track team. She has garnered interest from colleges in all three sports.
“Sports have kinda come natural for me,” Lynch said. “My dad just put me in everything. I have played soccer and basketball for as long as I can remember. In track I kinda run it all and I have made it to states every year so far.”
Joining Lynch this year will be senior Eden Gilkey who also received all-state accolades at the keeper position. Seniors Hannah White, Riley Lemon, Ryleigh Stone and Shyanne Friebel are back along with Bethany Rosiek and Jade Babkirk. Babkirk is the younger sister of Kiya and saw time last year as a freshman.
Rosiek will pull double-duty playing both soccer and golf.
“We lost a lot of seniors, but we have a lot of freshmen coming in,” Lynch said. “Over the past couple of days at practice we seem to have good chemistry. The start was a little hard because we have so many new girls.”
“Hopefully we will be in good shape and we can learn the formations and what we need to do,” Wilburn said. “We will have to play good fundamental soccer because I don’t think we are going to out-physical anybody. If we can learn to possess the ball and move the ball, I think we will be alright.”
With a new coach, new faces and new combinations, Wilburn knows there are challenges ahead.
“Until we get out on the field and move people around and see how we compete, I am not sure what kind of team this will be,” Wilburn said. “We have Woodrow (Wilson), (Greenbrier) East and Princeton in our section and that is who we need to worry about.”
“We will play George Washington and Charleston Catholic. You are only as good as who you play. I don’t want the team to be scared of GW,” Wilburn went on to say. “I want to go face them and if they are better than us, fine, but I don’t want to back down from them. Hopefully our efforts will be big. That is what I teach and preach. We will come out and play hard.”