Audra Kirk’s debut as a varsity soccer coach did not come without some challenges.
The 22-year-old Limestone native had only 10 players in uniform when her Easton High School girls soccer team met defending state Class D champion Ashland on Tuesday.
Ashland, which graduated just one starter off last year’s 18-0 team, triumphed 9-0.
“That’s the luck of the draw, I guess,” said Kirk, who graduated from the University of Maine-Presque Isle with a degree in special education.
“It’s not an ideal debut but I’m very happy to have the opportunity to be a varsity coach. My dream has been to teach and coach and that’s what I’m doing,” said Kirk, who teaches fourth grade at Fort Street School in Mars Hill.
She said she was encouraged by her team’s performance.
“The girls did great against Ashland. They didn’t score until the 17th minute and, for 10 girls to hold off 11 fresh-legged girls for nearly 20 minutes (is an accomplishment),” said Kirk.
Kirk knows she will have her hands full but said “I’m looking forward to it. I like a challenge.”
Easton lost 13 players off last year’s team which went 10-3-1 and finished third in the Eastern Maine Class D Heal Points standings.
The team has just 11 players. Nine attend the high school and two eighth-graders were added.
Three high school players quit during summer workouts.
One of the eighth-graders didn’t play against Ashland.
“It’s definitely a challenge but the nine high school players I have are solid players,” said Kirk. “We’ve added the two eighth-graders. It isn’t ideal but it’s not traumatic for us.”
Kirk has encouraged her players to try to recruit their friends and other girls to bring the numbers up.
“If we have 12 girls, (numbers) won’t be an issue unless we get injuries,” said Kirk.
Kirk carefully structures her practices and training regimen because of the limited roster.
“I gave them (Wednesday) off. I don’t want them to get heat exhaustion or injured from being tired after Tuesday’s game,” said Kirk, whose Bears play Madawaska on Friday. “And we hold short practices. We would have four to seven girls at a time at practice this summer so it isn’t practical to run drills for two hours.
“I definitely had to get creative on what we were doing in practice. So I researched some new drills. The girls know we’re dealing with low numbers so they do some extra running in drills and hustle hard. They have responded well to it,” said Kirk, a former goalkeeper at Limestone Community School/Maine School of Science and Mathematics and a midfielder at UMPI.
Kirk, the JV coach for the Presque Isle High School girls team the past two years, has had her players learn all the positions so they are capable of playing any of them.
Sophomore Summer Guess and eighth-grader Cecilia Morin will start out as strikers with sophomores Isabelle Morin, Cecilia’s sister, and Delia Bonner playing on the flanks.
Senior Emma Bonner, Delia’s sister, and junior Abby Currier are in the midfield. Junior Sara Gilman, senior Blake Bradley and junior Elise Allen in the back in front of goalie Delany Leach, a sophomore.
Eighth-grader Lydia Ferris will play up front.
Easton athletic director Steve Shaw said Kirk is a “nice addition to our staff” and noted that she might be able to add a few more eighth-graders to the roster later in the season.
“I think we’re going to be fine. We want to keep the program going and I’m optimistic that we will,” said Shaw, who noted the school’s enrollment is 91.
“But we had been down in the high 60s. Ninety-one is a good thing for us,” said Shaw.
Kirk said she can offer any new players “a comfortable and safe environment to learn and play the game of soccer.”