Now entering his sixth season as head coach of the Jamestown Community College women's soccer team, Dana Shelters has never, not once, guided a group as fresh-faced as the one he's about to this year.
"I think this is the youngest group I've ever had," he said on Wednesday evening, "by far."
With just four returning sophomores - most of whom played on the defensive end and, as such, didn't score a single goal last season - and the rest - a whopping 13 in all - who have yet to play even a second of soccer at the collegiate level, Shelters' estimation is almost certainly correct.
Meghan Wilcox is one of only four sophomores on the Jamestown Community College women’s soccer team this season.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
But that doesn't exactly mean he's feeling overly pessimistic about the inexperienced, yet athletically-gifted, group, either.
"On the one hand you think, 'God, they're so young, they're going to struggle,'" Shelters explained, "but on the other you're going, 'Wait, they're so young that they don't know any better.'
"What they lack in skill right now, they can make up in athletic ability. That's the best case scenario, and hopefully that's what happens."
Luckily, thanks to a new setup in NJCAA Region 3 Division III (teams are now divided into Eastern and Western Divisions), the squad will have ample time to adjust to the college game.
"The way our schedule is, we really don't play our first Western Division game until JCC-Olean (on September 11). So we've got five games to get things sorted out."
Those five games, however, won't be the most ideal for easing the group into the speed and intensity of play. The term trial by fire, in fact, springs to mind when looking over the early slate.
And that's the point.
Up first is a scrimmage with Mansfield University, an NCAA Division II squad and the current team of former Jayhawks Danelle Shelters (Coach Shelter's daughter) and Kelsey Fish, a week from today. Then, two days later, there's the 1 p.m., home opener against Mohawk Valley CC, a team that has defeated JCC in each of the past three season openers but, more importantly and most significantly, is the defending national champions.
Game two is another home battle, this time with Monroe CC, a Division I school, and then comes a contest with another four-year school, Alfred State.
"You can build up false confidence by playing against (less talented) teams," Shelters said, "but what will (the girls) learn from that? If they go against good teams, though, they'll really learn. That's the thought-process (behind the scheduling).
"Success depends upon how quickly they can adapt to, and embrace, the challenges in front of them."
Shelters already sees positive signs.
"I'm encouraged," he said, "They've already really come a long way, and I think they have the mentality (for the challenges ahead)."
After shoring up the defense last year with the recruitment of then-newcomers, and current veterans, Meghan Wilcox (an All-WNYAC second-team choice from Falconer) and Mary Lucas (Maple Grove) - the Jayhawks allowed over 200 shots against in 2011 but just 98 against last year - Shelters turned his focus this season to improving Jamestown's "offensive punch."
With freshmen Samantha Mann, Kylie Wilson and, at times should the situation call, Elizabeth Roosa; along with veteran center-midfielder and distributor Megan Lundy and freshman Kirsten Green, among others, Shelters feels he's done just that.
"Forward-wise, we have a lot of speed with Mann and Wilson," he explained. "With those two there's some speed that not a lot of people can catch, and Mann is great with using both of her feet (to make a pass).
"Add to that Lundy in the center with her experience, and Green, who is another girl that's just as fast the first five minutes of the game as the last, and I'm excited to see what these girls can do."
Mann, a three-time Post-Journal all-star, was Frewsburg's co-MVP last season after scoring a team-high 11 goals with four assists. Wilson, meanwhile, netted a team-leading five goals for Jamestown; Green, the Chautauqua County Exceptional Seniors All-Star game MVP, led Panama with eight goals and three assists; and Roosa chipped in four goals and an assist for the Lady Cardinals.
"We can surprise (teams)," Shelters said. "But with a new team the danger is always with that first shock at how physical and how fast the game is.
"The thing I'm really encouraged about is that we have some really tremendous athletes, they want to learn and they've been focused."
Now all that's left is to see how, and when, it all comes together.