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Expectations remain high for Royals

Mollie Hanselman, left, and Meghan Konop are Woodbury’s captains this season. Hanselman will not be able to play in 2014 due to an injury suffered during the club season. (Bulletin photos by Jace Frederick)

A lot is missing from the 2013 Royals’ club that went 12-6-1 and reached the sectional final.

Gone are 10 seniors, including star striker Madison Gafney, who collected 16 goals in her senior campaign before heading off to play Division-I soccer for the Minnesota Gophers.

But returning are enough pieces where Woodbury’s expectations remain the same.

Success is expected.

“We still have high hopes for this season, for sure,” senior captain Mollie Hanselman said.

On the attacking end the Royals return weapons such as Kim Taplin, Rachel Hewitt and Dani Nelson, who all experienced success a year ago.

“They were able to score, so we hope they’ll continue to do that,” Royals co-coach Pat Malicki said. “We’ll just have to spread the scoring around this year.”

Still, Malicki said one of the primary factors in Woodbury’s success this season will be strong defensive performances. Those become easier to achieve with a keeper such as senior captain Meghan Konop in net.

“She’s a great goalkeeper,” Malicki said. “She helps organize the other ones, she’s a very good teacher. The defense respects her and she’s got so much experience, so yeah, [her presence] is huge.”

Konop has played a big role in helping the Royals younger players adjust to the varsity level. That’s important, because Malicki said Woodbury is going to need everyone to be available, as the Royals have already been hit hard by the injury bug.

No loss is bigger than Hanselman, who is out for the season after an injury suffered during the club season.

Malicki said her absence on the pitch this season will be “huge.”

“Because she’s got a ton of energy and a great willingness to win balls,” he said. “We can play her anywhere on the field wherever we needed help and she’d bring it and play every minute. That’s a big loss.”

So the team’s youngsters have become even more important as they have multiple spots to slide into.

Konop said getting the younger players to adjust has been “a process.”

“I think they’re doing really well,” she said. “We’ve got a really good group of underclassmen this year and they’ll bring a lot to the table and they’ll make us all better.”

Hanselman remembers her first experience at the varsity level. It took some time to get used to.

“Just the size and going up against girls who are twice as big as you and learning how to not get knocked down every time,” she said. “Just the speed of play is so much quicker.”

Woodbury hopes the adjustment process won’t take too long.

“Because the last game is Oct. 2, so they don’t have much time,” Malicki said. “In training sessions each day they’ve been getting better and better, so we’re hoping they’re ready to go.”

They have to be. Woodbury wants to win now.

“It’s going to be a good year, I can feel it,” Konop said. “There’s a lot of potential on our team right now.”

The Royals opened their season by splitting a pair of games. Woodbury topped Duluth East 1-0 Aug. 22, but fell 3-0 to Eden Prairie on Aug. 23.

“We’re going to get better every single game and make a run,” Malicki said. “We’re going to do the best we can. … They’re a solid group and we’re going to push toward the top.”