MARQUETTE - The fact the Northern Michigan University soccer team is low on veterans this season is no secret.
With 19 freshmen and sophomores and only four upperclassmen, the Wildcats are being forced to embrace a reality this season that they have much less experience to work with them prior years.
But it's also no secret the one girl - senior forward Amelia Johnson - who's seen it all since her freshmen season in 2009, is playing a pretty huge role in helping with such a large freshmen group.
Northern Michigan University senior forward Amelia Johnson passes the ball to a teammate during a preseason practice in August at the NMU Soccer Field. Johnson’s first season at Northern was in 2009 and she’s one of only a handful of veterans on the Wildcats’ roster in 2012. Johnson had four goals and 11 points in 2011 to earn All-GLIAC?second team honors. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
"I think every year, even as a freshmen, she sets the tone," NMU coach Matt Grandstand said. "Her work rate is second to none. I think without even opening her mouth, just the way she plays and the way she practices, she sets the tone. And everyone else sees that."
And while Grandstand is only slightly concerned about his large freshmen class and the small amount of college-level experience on his team, his faith in his handful of seasoned vets, especially Johnson, is unwavering.
"She's always that standard the standard that never quits, never stops, never complains she just fights and plays," Granstrand said. "She's got talent to go with it as well. It's not just the effort. We put her in different positions and whatever we do with her, it's 100 percent effort all the time.
GLIAC soccer: Northern?Michigan at Michigan?Tech,
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"I don't know how she runs at that level all day, but she does. It's a credit to her that she leads by the example that she sets on the field and in training everyday."
And with the never-ending question of whether or not the freshmen class will carry the Wildcats at that high standard set by Johnson and her fellow seniors in mind, Grandstand is satisfied with what he's seen so far, though he expects things to get shaky quite a bit this season.
Basically, he expects his young team to play young.
"It's a young and talented team, but when you're this young, you're going to make mistakes," Grandstand said. "And when you play good teams, you're going to get punished. And it's going to keep happening. We'll play brilliantly and then we'll play like a young team again.
"This is the year where we'll compete and fight, but we're going to make mistakes that young people make. "
The solid batch of new players is both exciting and a reality check, Johnson said. Her and the seniors are not only helping the youth adapt and get comfortable with how the team works, but also vying for positions on the field and maintaining competition within the team.
"The thing that's different about this season is that we have a lot of young fresh talent," Johnson said. "At the beginning of the year it's been pretty shaky, but it's super exciting being that all the players are excited to play.
"They've gotten into the swing of things right away and they're actually some of the best freshmen we've had - just super helpful and ready to work hard everyday."
After her senior season wraps up, Johnson, a biology major, is also happy to be carrying her experiences of helping her teammates into sharing soccer with youth back in her hometown of St. Michael, Minn., where she will return and coach after graduating next spring.
"After Northern, I've been coaching for a number of years so I'd like to continue to coach and share my passion with the future generations," she said.
"But my goals for this season are to just have a good year and know that I've worked my absolute hardest in my last year at Northern. It's my goal to give it all I have, and hopefully good things will come of that."
Amanda Monthei can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org