Cooper freshman A.J. Jiron and eighth-grader Jordyn Saddler knew they were set up to play big roles for the Cooper girls soccer team, but even they couldn’t have predicted how well they would play to kick off the season.
Cooper has won its first two games of the season 1-0 against Heritage Christian Academy Aug. 24, and Park Center Aug. 26, with Jiron picking up shutout victories in goal and with Saddler scoring the Hawks’ first two goals of the season.
“This feels like a relief because now I won’t be as nervous going into these next games,” Saddler said. “I expected the people to be a lot bigger, but when you’re smaller you don’t get as many fouls called.”
With Jiron stepping in for since-departed four-year starter Dayja Schwichtenberg, Cooper head girls soccer coach Nick Wetherall knew how important it would be for her to experience instant success.
“This was huge for A.J. and just what we needed for her,” Wetherall said after the Hawks’ 1-0 win over Heritage Christian Academy. “We got her in a few times last year at the end of a few games and she was a little nervous.
“This is what I expected, Heritage is always a high-quality team that wants to possess just like we do, they have strong players and this is either three or four years in a row that it was 1-0.”
For Wetherall, Saddler and Jiron are just two of what has become a strong core of young players.
“It seems that every year we get three or four new kids and we keep it going,” Wetherall said. “It always seems we are young because of the size of the program.”
While Cooper’s young players have starred to begin the season, the Hawks have also leaned on their three senior captains for leadership. Ailee Snapko, one of the senior captains, has translated her leadership on the field, where she has played well for the Hawks.
“Ailee started as a freshman with us and we have seen her grow into her role,” Wetherall said. “She’s a jock, she’s a talented player and she, [Felicia Villalobos] and [Madie McGuire], our three captains, are just spot on in terms of quality.
“They’re vocal, they’re instructing the kids, and I’m vocal, but I don’t need to be.”
With two wins already under their belts, the Hawks will look to keep up their strong play through the rest of the season.
“I think it’s all going to be very competitive,” Wetherall said. “We have a great group, but there are really no easy games, everybody is tough.
“I’m hoping we can handle some of the bigger programs, but we have to anticipate that every team will be tough.”
Cooper will play next against Fridley at 4 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31, at Fridley High School.
Follow Sun Post sports editor Chris Chesky on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris and on Facebook at SunSportsStaff.