For the past three years, all Piper Hahn had to do was play hard. The seniors would take care of the leadership, orchestrate the offensive attack and save the day on defense.
If Hahn was content to just go through the motions as a midfielder, it would have been acceptable. She was not. She took the opportunity to learn.
“When I first started, it was always so weird because I was always one of the followers. We've always had the older girls,” Hahn said. “Now that they're gone, it's up to us.”
While Hahn learned, she also developed. A player once timid, passing the ball off to anyone willing to take it, she now shows no fear blitzing past opposing defenses. Hahn accelerates like a Ferrari.
“I just want her to take chances and be dangerous,” said Derby soccer coach Robert Rhodes.
Offense was a puzzling weakness for the Panthers a year ago, as they plodded to a 7-9-1 mark. Hahn's playmaking can cure some of that, but Derby still must find finishers.
Rhodes believes they have.
Derby is offering a quick learning curve for freshmen Riley Spainhour and Katie Hartman. Both are being tossed into starting roles, and both have responded well.
Hartman polished off two goals in Derby's 3-0 victory over Goddard Eisenhower before spring break.
"She just wants to score," Hahn said. "That's her main goal, and she knows how to do it."
The Panthers also return Elizabeth DeCristoforo at keeper. Rhodes asked her to step into the goal before her freshman season because Derby was thin at the position. Hahn said she could tell DeCristoforo was "either going to quit or start being really good."
DeCristoforo picked really good, earning an Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division I honorable mention award. Rhodes said she has come up strong in tough games, including a few big stops against Maize a year ago.
"The light flickered, and she's dedicated to the goal now," Rhodes said.
In front of the net, the defense is being reconstructed. Makenzie Smith is the passionate senior veteran of the unit. Derby also is getting a boost from promising junior Wynter Keetso, who transferred from New Mexico. Hanna Newhouse and Sara West will see plenty of minutes on the field, as well.
"Even though we lost a lot of our talented players, we keep building," Hahn said. "Derby is a very scrappy team."
Hahn said Derby wants to capture a winning record this year. Beyond that, the Panthers want to make a run at the league title. Derby can push toward that with a strong finish to the year - the Panthers wrap up the regular season with home dates against Campus, Maize and Salina South.
Maize, an intimidating powerhouse, is still the measuring stick in the league. Hahn is fired up for one more shot at the Eagles.
"You can't go into those situations scared," she said.