Shannon Flower put on her Columbus Eagles FC uniform for the first time in almost two months June 24, and despite having played soccer most of her life, she did not expect the transition to be automatic.
Flower, a 2010 Upper Arlington High School graduate who played for Indiana University, missed most of May and June with the Eagles, first because of a three-week trip to Australia -- where she will live beginning in January -- and then because she helped chaperone a few dozen teenagers on a week-and-a-half trip to Wyoming.
Upon her return, Flower found out she probably will be the Eagles' top goalkeeper the rest of the season, as previous starter Shauni Kerkhoff, a 2012 Olentangy Orange graduate, left the team June 15 to join the United States Capitol Police.
"It's tough," Flower said three days before the Eagles beat the Cincinnati Sirens FC 4-2 on June 24 at Mapfre Stadium. "Being a goalkeeper is so much about routine and getting a lot of reps in. It's going to be a struggle, but I think that will be more of a mental thing than anything physical. In that kind of situation, you just have to use your game smarts."
Such unpredictability is a part of life for the Eagles, a fourth-year women's amateur team that plays in the Women's Premier Soccer League. Rosters for WPSL teams primarily consist of college and post-college players, with the vast majority holding day jobs that make them subject to be taken away by other commitments at any time.
According to Eagles coach Mark Wise, one player missed a game to attend a wedding and another missed a game after having her wisdom teeth removed.
That necessitates that Wise carries a roster of 23 players. But despite not having a consistent lineup, the Eagles still are enjoying one of their best seasons, having improved to 3-3-3 overall and 3-2 (9 points) in the Valley Division with the win over Sirens FC.
"I don't know if the Crew (SC) would allow somebody to miss a game for a wedding, but for these ladies, they have their (day) jobs and this is a fun outlet for them," said Wise, whose team plays its home games at Otterbein University. "We have a few dozen players who can play the game, so if one is missing, we can plug somebody else in. It's tough when everybody is available and we have to make choices."
The Eagles began their season with three consecutive ties, then won back-to-back games against the Dayton Dutch Lions (2-1 on May 20) and FC Pride (1-0 on May 27) before losing three games in a row. They ended the skid with the win over Sirens FC.
Kelly DeNiro and Lisa Nouanesengsy each had two of the team's six goals through eight games. Erin Brockway and Larissa Najjar, a 2003 DeSales graduate, had one each.
DeNiro, a 2010 Watterson graduate who played for the University of Akron, is in her first season with the team. She was referred by college teammate Amber Kern, a 2010 Dublin Coffman graduate with whom DeNiro also played club soccer growing up.
"We have a deep midfield, which is especially good because we have a lot of people coming and going," DeNiro said. "Lisa is a good attacker who will make good runs at the goal. I want to be in the middle of the action, getting the ball and helping dictate how we move around. We try to pass the ball more rather than be direct all the time."
With four games remaining -- all on the road -- the Eagles are hoping for their first division championship. They travel to Cincinnati on Friday, July 8, to face Sirens FC and play at Cleveland Ambassadors FC on Saturday, July 9, before games at FC Pride on July 15 in Indianapolis and at Villa FC on July 22 in Toledo.
"We're more determined than ever before to make a name for ourselves," said Alexa Cheripko, a 2013 Pickerington North graduate who played her freshman year at Otterbein and the past three at Bowling Green. "Our passing game is a strong suit. When we are able to keep the ball on the ground and pass it around, I think that is when we are at our best.
"The girls who are coming out and wanting to play are more serious. They want to put in the time and work to be successful."