As a first-year amateur women's soccer team, the Columbus Eagles expected to have their share of growing pains -- not the least of which is having all players on the same page.
At 30, defender Corie Moore is the Eagles' oldest player. Forward Becca Gordon, who is entering her senior year at Johnstown-Monroe High School and has committed to the University of Akron, is the youngest at 17. Moore, Gordon and their 26 teammates all bring different experiences, philosophies and skill levels to the table.
"Trying to get everybody on the same page has probably been our biggest struggle," midfielder Ashley Predmore said. "Trust and understanding really come into play."
Columbus is one of 74 teams in the Women's Premier Soccer League. It competes in the Great Lakes Division with the Cincinnati Lady Saints, FC Indiana, FC Pride, Motor City FC and the Ohio Galaxies.
According to its website, the WPSL is the largest women's soccer league in the world. It was formed in 1998 and is sanctioned by the U.S. Adult Soccer Association, which is an affiliate of the U.S. Soccer Federation.
The Eagles were 0-8-1 after a 3-1 loss to Motor City FC on July 6 and will conclude the regular season Sunday, July 13, at the Lady Saints. They lost their first seven games, being outscored 20-0, before earning their first point with a 2-all tie against FC Pride on June 29 at Wellington, where they play their home games.
"The game changes as you get older. It becomes very much possession-based," said 29-year-old defender Jessica Witzky, a former Gahanna and Wellington player who was an assistant coach at Olentangy Orange the past six seasons.
"It's not so much gun-and-run, which is what a lot of players are used to. We have to blend in terms of showing how possession can help, then also use (younger players') speed and fitness and individual talents to our advantage."
The rest of Columbus' roster consists of forwards Donavan Capehart, Monique Hanayik, Keila Herrera, Christine Najjar, Christina Neal and Maddy Smith, midfielders Katherine Beattie, Dominique Brown, Julia Bruno, Danielle Dixson, Kaylin Hunsaker, Kaitlin Moore, Lara Ross and Sam Vaughn, defenders Katherine Carey, Elisabeth Hostetter, Shelby Jude, Courtney Klosterman, Danielle Reymann and Veronica Zaciek and goalkeepers Laura Clark, Heather Laeufer, Kim Leitch and Molly Schriber.
The Eagles' chief executive officer and coach is Mark Wise, who previously coached the girls teams at Reynoldsburg and Upper Arlington.
"We've tried people at all different positions and switched up formations so we can find our niches on the field," said Smith, a 2013 Thomas Worthington graduate now playing for Ashland University. "This is the highest level of play I've ever been at. I am learning so much. Everybody comes with their own experiences."
Wise said he first envisioned Columbus having a women's team in the summer of 1999 while attending the U.S. women's team's 7-1 win over Nigeria in pool play of the World Cup at Soldier Field in Chicago. The U.S. went on to win the World Cup, outscoring China 5-4 in a penalty shootout in the final after the teams had played to a scoreless tie through regulation and extra time.
"I watched with (66,000) other fans," Wise said. "(The U.S.) team was inspirational. Then in the final when they were playing in front of (90,000) fans in the Rose Bowl (in Pasadena, Calif.), it was amazing. And the (Columbus) Crew came into town around that time (1996) and I was thinking how great it'd be to have a women's team playing while the Crew was away."
It took more than 14 years for Wise's dream to come to fruition. Wise, general manager Stephen Reymann and the director of business development, Dondi Panagalangan, began to spread the word last winter.
All players are unpaid, although the Eagles have sponsors that provide such amenities as uniforms and health care.
With several players in college, Columbus did not have a full roster for its inaugural game, a 5-0 loss to FC Indiana on May 11 in South Bend, Ind. The Eagles then lost to Motor City FC 6-0 in their second game May 17 in Livonia, Mich., but their next five losses were decided by three goals or fewer.
Columbus lost to FC Indiana 2-0 in its home opener May 25, 1-0 to the Lady Saints on June 1, 3-0 to Indianapolis-based FC Pride on June 8, 1-0 to the Dayton-based Galaxies on June 15 and 2-0 to the Galaxies on June 22.
In the tie against FC Pride, Najjar and Smith scored to stake Columbus to a 2-0 halftime lead, but tactical adjustments created in part by a player having to leave for an academic commitment hurt the Eagles in the second half.
"It was a great step forward considering where we've been," Witzky said. "But it's still bittersweet because we were that close to getting the win."