Michael Pierson was on the sideline as an assistant coach while the Franklin girls soccer team labored through a three-win season a year ago.
When he stepped into the head coaching role during the offseason, it would have been understandable if Pierson had opted to temper his expectations and tried to slowly raise the bar bit by bit.
But that’s not how he rolls, so don’t expect the Grizzly Cubs to be approaching this year with hopes of modest improvement. For a team that’s never won so much as a sectional championship, they’re thinking big.
"Basically, it’s going to be a whole new situation with lineups, with formations," Pierson said. "Just trying to recreate a winning culture here at Franklin when it comes to girls soccer, considering they haven’t won anything ever."
Pierson, who also coaches at the Bargersville-based South Central Soccer Academy, has reason for the unbridled optimism. Not only does he inherit a young group that gained valuable experience while being thrown to the wolves last year, but he also has one of the best goalkeepers in the state to build around in junior Addie Marshall, who has shown the ability to almost singlehandedly keep Franklin in games against formidable opponents.
With several top players returning and a huge influx of new talent, the hope is that she won’t have to shoulder such a heavy burden again.
"We’ve definitely grown over the past two seasons," Marshall said. "Hopefully we can come in at the start of this season and win some games."
Among the reinforcements coming in are senior Stephanie Brady, a transfer from Whiteland, and junior Mollie Hill, who made an immediate impact as a freshman for the Grizzly Cubs but opted not to play last fall.
Hill, who says she missed high school soccer, is hungry to lead Franklin to success after that time away — and she’s confident in Pierson’s ability to help get them there.
"Michael’s experienced; he knows what he’s doing," Hill said. "So I think we’ll actually have a really good group this year and be able to work well with each other."
Though the COVID-19 pandemic took away a lot of the getting-to-know-you time that the team would have ordinarily had in the spring, Pierson did have the benefit of getting to know most of the girls through his time as an assistant last fall and during workouts in the winter before school shut down.
That head start, he says, made the acclimation process much easier than it would have been if he’d had to start from scratch in July.
"The familiarity with the girls, it’s a lot easier in the transition part for them," Pierson said. "They already know what I’m about."
What he’s about is winning — and it’s clear that the Grizzly Cubs are just as hungry for success as their coach is.
"I think it’s going to take a lot of work, but we’re ready for it," Hill said. "I think Michael is a great coach to start, hopefully, a winning tradition here and get the program turned around."
SCOUTING THE COUNTY
<strong>Center Grove Trojans</strong>
Coach: Mike Bishop
Last season: 17-3-1, won sectional title; lost to Castle in Class 3A regional final
Key returnees: Ella Blazek, Macy Detty, Makensie Kramer and Paige Waskom, seniors; Ava Crowe, Lexi Glover, Peyton Murphy, Paige Northern and Elli Utterback, juniors; Kayli Farmer and Emily Karr, sophomores
Top newcomer: Kylie Crum, junior
Outlook: The Trojans will have some rust to shake off just like everyone else after an abbreviated offseason, but few teams in Indiana can match their returning talent on paper. Detty and Waskom are both Division I recruits and All-State candidates, and they’ve got plenty of veteran help alongside them, with proven studs like Glover, Murphy, Farmer and Karr leading the way. There are some holes to fill on defense, including at goalie, but Bishop has 13 juniors coming up from the JV and perhaps a freshman or two that can crack the rotation as well. The postseason path will again be littered with potential roadblocks, but Center Grove should again be one of the top teams in the state.
<strong>Franklin Grizzly Cubs</strong>
Coach: Michael Pierson
Last season: 3-14, lost to Columbus East in Class 3A sectional semifinal
Key returnees: Addie Marshall, junior; Emma Williams, sophomore
Top newcomers: Stephanie Brady, senior; Mollie Hill, junior; Erica Buening and Lilly Fancher, freshmen
Outlook: Pierson, a Franklin grad and an assistant last fall, brings an eagerness to instill a winning mindset within a program that hasn’t managed to break through in the past. He’s well positioned to get the ball rolling thanks in large part to Marshall, one of the top goalkeepers in the state. Hill, who returns after sitting out last season, and Brady, a transfer from Whiteland, will anchor the midfield and help lead a young and talented supporting cast. The Grizzly Cubs, Pierson hopes, can climb into the upper echelon of the Mid-State Conference.
Coach: Joe Mushrush
Last season: 8-9, lost to Center Grove in first round of Class 3A sectional
Key returnees: Alicia Ader, Olivia Brawley and Brooklee Dotson, seniors; Tori Graber, junior; Emily Metzger and Josie Ochsner, sophomores
Outlook: The Woodmen threw a lot of young players into the deep end last season and wound up having a surprising amount of success; the hope is that it will translate into even more this year. Brawley will again be counted on to lead the way, while Metzger and Ochsner should be even more dangerous with a year of varsity seasoning behind them. Mushrush is taking a wait-and-see approach on expectations after not having the team together all spring, but there is enough talent on hand to finish in the upper half of the Mid-State.
<strong>Greenwood Christian Cougars</strong>
Coach: Stephen LaVoy
Last season: 11-5-1, lost to Heritage Christian in first round of Class A sectional
Outlook: The Cougars lost nearly 75 percent of their scoring to graduation; first-year coach LaVoy hopes to fill that void by committee with a balanced club this fall.
Coach: Nick Magdalinos
Last season: 1-15, lost to Columbus North in Class 3A sectional opener
Key returnees: Sarah Turcotte, junior; Haley Achs and McKinley Garrett, sophomores
Top newcomer: Alaina LaPorte, senior
Outlook: After spending his first season at the helm laying a foundation and establishing the culture he wants, Magdalinos feels good about the Warriors’ chances to make strides this fall. A solid group of holdover talent is being bolstered by the return of LaPorte, a starter two years ago who sat out as a junior. Whiteland is probably still a bit away from crashing the upper tier of the Mid-State Conference again, but the team should at least make a dent in that upward climb.