In a way, it’s like being blessed with great soil, knowing you’ll lose some of it — because that’s just nature — and meanwhile doing whatever you can to keep as much as possible.
Matt Procopio might find the agricultural imagery amusing. But that doesn’t change what he’s committed to do with the Millersville University women’s soccer team. Namely, to produce a bumper crop for years to come.
Procopio’s fourth Marauder team, which opened the season Thursday by routing Jefferson, has strong Lancaster County roots. Nine of his 26 players, including at least four starters, hail from local schools. Only two of that group, backs Lauren Hoffman and Bailey Kramer, are seniors.
As a Wilson High graduate and former co-captain for MU men’s coach Steve Widdowson, Procopio knows the territory. He helped recruit the players who carried the Marauder women to a national ranking in 2013 and a 9-6-2 record under Mike O’Brien a year later. His young head coaching career has yet to bear such fruit — the Marauders were 18-31-2 in his first three seasons. But there are clear signs of better days ahead.
“We’ve gotten a lot closer since I’ve been here,” said Hoffman, a Donegal grad who transferred from Kutztown to MU as a sophomore. “If we continue having this relationship, we can become even better as a team.”
Ephrata’s Kay Liebl, who led the team with eight goals and earned all-region honors last year as a sophomore, points to big gains in experience and depth.
“You have more people you can put in the game,” she said, “and not really notice much of a difference.”
Liebl combines with Elizabethtown’s Talia Grynkiewicz (5 goals last year) and senior Delaney Meadows of Susquehanna Township (6 goals) to front the offense. Hoffman and Kramer, a Penn Manor product, anchor the backfield. In goal, Lancaster Mennonite’s Kate Phillips saw significant action last year behind Katie Mujica.
Procopio also expects help from freshmen Alexis Spencer (Conestoga Valley) and Kendal Ream (Lampeter-Strasburg), sophomore Haley Peachey (CV) and junior Macy Wetzel (Octorara), who was sidelined by injury last season. Ream’s a forward, Spencer and Wetzel midfielders and Peachey a defender.
When he returned to MU after a season as a men’s assistant at Tiffin University (Ohio), Procopio said, Job One was to build a base with his roster. His 20 returning players this season reflect that progress. At the same time, he knows that coaching isn’t always about getting what (or who) you want.
“I think he definitely tries to play more to the personnel we have, rather than stick to a straight style and try to force everyone into it,” Liebl said. “I think in that aspect, it’s really gotten better, making the game adapt to us.”
Their year-by-year records are more revealing than the overall mark. They’ve gone from 5-12 to 7-10 to 6-9-2 last season. Also, they’ve jumped from minus-9 in goal differential (20-30) in 2016 to plus-1 (30-29) a year ago.
Procopio allows that they’re “moving in the right direction. … We’ve still got areas where we’ve got to continue to grow, and we’ve got to target those areas to continue to make them better.” As for building on that talent base, he hopes the current Marauders will help create momentum, not only here in their backyard but elsewhere as well.
“If you’re able to show you can attract quality local players, that will attract other quality local players,” he said. “That’s challenging sometimes, because they want to go away to college, which I totally understand.
“It’s just that you’ve got to find the kids that are looking to stay (close to home), and you’ve got to recruit them actively, because they’re going to be sought-after players.”
Even the best seed and soil will always require preparation.
• Connect with Jeff Young, a former LNP sports editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.