KARNS CITY (EYT/D9) — Rossi McMillen still remembers that night. She recalls the overwhelming disappointment. The sadness. The feeling she had let her teammates on the Karns City girls soccer team down.
It was a rough November evening at Brockway for McMillen and the Gremlin defense against Clearfield in the District 9 Class 2A championship game last year. The 5-4 loss ended an eight-year championship run for Karns City.
(Karns City goalkeeper Rossi McMillen makes a save during a game last season/photo by Holly Mead)
It left McMillen and the the rest of the team a bit hollow inside.
“It was rough,” McMillen admitted. “I did not want that to happen again. It was not a good feeling.”
It was only McMillen’s second season in goal. She moved there as a sophomore when Karns City coach Tracy Dailey asked her to make a major position change.
Up to that point, McMillen had played defense, midfield and even some forward during her soccer career, which began when she was only 5.
But goalkeeper? Never.
McMillen was intrigued and she wanted to help the team anywhere she was needed.
Even in front of the net.
“I was a little nervous at first,” McMillen said. “I didn’t want to let (Coach Dailey) down. I just did my best.”
She got some major help from former Karns City boys soccer standout Tyler Pollock, and McMillen had a standout season in 2020. She stopped 130 shots, notched six shutouts and gave up just six goals in 11 games leading up to the D9 title match.
Pollock has continued his tutelage, and this offseason, the two worked tirelessly to give a boost to McMillen’s quickness in goal.
It’s already paid off.
In a scrimmage against Mercyhurst Prep recently, McMillen made a number of difficult saves to preserve a 1-0 victory.
“She’s been playing very well,” Dailey said. “She’s really worked hard at it, and her steps are right where they need to be. I mean, she has played phenomenally.”
McMillen said she is also finally feeling comfortable as a keeper. It was a steep learning curve for a player who had never worn the goalie gloves before.
“The most difficult thing was just finding confidence,” McMillen said.
Dailey has seen a lot of focus from her team, which is an eclectic blend of older and younger players, as they prepare for the season.
Losing the D9 title game last year has given the Gremlins a renewed sense of purpose.
Get the crown back. No matter what.
Juniors McKenna Martin and Emma Dailey have been particularly motivated. Martin scored 24 goals and also had 11 assists and Dailey found the net 18 times to go with 13 assists last season.
“I tell you what, McKenna (Martin) and Emma (Dailey) have been very focused,” Coach Dailey said. “I think they have seen what that next level entails and they know they have two years to get there.”
They’ve also been vocal — maybe too vocal, the coach said, chuckling.
“There’s probably four players on the team right now who don’t settle for anything other than almost perfection,” Dailey said. “And they hold themselves very accountable, McKenna and Emma being two of them. Then there’s (senior) Ally Fennell and a freshman coming in, Chloe Fritch. They were all very vocal and holding people accountable to a point where I actually had to stop them. I had to remind them, ‘Hey, we’re all on the same team.’”
Dailey, though, loves to see that. Karns City is already playing with an edge.
Fennell will return to the midfield where she scored seven goals and also had 10 assists last season. Fritch will play midfield and some forward and A-C Valley junior Avah Burke is also back this year playing for Karns City. She will take on more of a defensive midfield role.
Two other freshmen, Sarah Dodd and Lyrik Reed, will also take on a big role this season.
The Gremlins’ roster has swelled from 17 to 24 this year thanks to an influx of a talented freshman class.
“I told the girls, ‘I don’t know who we’ll start from game to game,’” Dailey said. “We have Shali Slater and (Addisyn) Christie and Abby Callihan and you throw Taylor Miller in there, we can give some people some breaks and that will improve our pace of play.”
Karns City wants to play fast and wear teams down.
Ultimately, though, the Gremlins have a feeling they are on a collision course with Clearfield again.
Clearfield returns its top two scorers from last season, junior Elle Smith (37 goals) and senior Emma Hipps (20 goals). The Bison also have much of the rest of their team back.
“I think we’ll probably see Clearfield again,” McMillen said. “They’ve always been a big competitor with us. We’ll be ready to compete. There were some things I feel like we needed to work on and I feel like we’ve greatly improved. I’m really excited to see what the season brings.”