By First-year Lake girls soccer coach Steve Hoffman is a big fan of travel soccer programs, particularly the East Suburban Soccer League (ESSL).
"I would encourage it, absolutely," said Hoffman, who guided the Flyers into the Division II regional semifinals last week. "When kids know what to do with the ball, it's easier to coach. When you coach rec soccer, it's like you're starting over every season. You start over every spring, every fall — the same principle of soccer.
"The kids in travel, they've been working on the same basics year round. Those kids know what to do with the ball. Kids who played rec for me who played high school this year (at Lake), a couple of them really struggled because they didn't quite grasp the game of soccer. It was a year-long process getting them to understand what I want them to do."
By reaching the regional tournament and finishing with 14 victories this season, Lake has made a name for itself in Northwest Ohio. And the more the girls play, Hoffman said, the better the program will become.
Of the Flyers' seven graduating seniors, only three of those grew up playing travel soccer, Hoffman said.
"The one junior we have, Kristin Lehman, was a returning captain and the only travel soccer she had was a couple seasons for the Arsenal (of the ESSL)," Hoffman said. "Otherwise, she was from the rec program. Our sophomores, a lot of those girls played travel for the Arsenal. Our freshmen, it was pretty much split. Half of them came from travel clubs and the other half were from the rec leagues."
Lake graduates a lot of talent from this year's senior class, which includes forward Heather Cox (13 goals, seven assists), midfielder Jaclyn Kinsey (seven goals, two assists), keeper Kelsey McCloskey (117 saves) as well as Sam Netz, Emily Philo, Katlyn Miner and Ashley Pettit.
They were instrumental in the Flyers doubling last year's win total. McCloskey was a first-team All-Suburban Lakes League selection.
"Being new coaches, we weren't sure she was going to be our goalie," Hoffman said. "She established herself as as the No. 1 right away, just by her play in the preseason tournament. She's tall for a goalie and she moves well side to side. She is like a field general. She controls where our kids are lining up. She holds about every goalie record at Lake."
Lake has only had a varsity girls program for five years; before last season the Flyers had a co-ed team. This season marked Lake's first as a member of the SLL.
In Hoffman, the Flyers gained a coach who has coached travel soccer in the ESSL for the past six years. He started out with a U-9 Arsenal team and has coached that group up through U-14 this season.
"We take the best from the SLL schools," he said. "We pretty much have a girl from every SLL school on my travel team. I take the one or two best from each school. We just won a tournament this weekend in Columbus."
The Flyers will return a solid nucleus of underclassmen next year in freshman center Hannah Cox, sophomore outside defenders Emily Whitmore and Tara Preble, sophomore attacker Drew Plummer and freshmen Casey Hughes, Lindsay Hoffman and Courtney Kranz, and sophomores Hilary West and Sam Phalen.
Coach Hoffman said he hopes this year's success carries over into 2009.
"I do have 25 goals I have to replace, and probably 12 assists," he said. "Somewhere, I have to make that up. I know I have some girls coming in who are definitely going to help us out. Hopefully, getting to the regional semis, that experience will carry us just as far or even further next season."