Despite just one win in its first five games, coach Mo Ollek still believes his Merritt Secondary girls soccer team is capable of turning things around.

“Overall, we are improving with every game,” he said, “but we still need to play with more assertiveness, and not be intimidated by our opponents.”

The Lady Panthers showed plenty of nervousness in their season opener on April 7, losing 6-1 to an experienced Valleyview side from Kamloops.

“Our girls were very tentative,” said Ollek. “You could tell it was our first game of the year. We were physically pushed around, and spent most of the contest in our own end.”

Madison Rauch had Merritt’s lone goal against the bigger, more-experienced Vikes.

The score was a lot closer in the Panthers’ second outing, a 3-0 loss to the Westsyde Whundas on April 9.

“This was a much better effort from our girls,” said Ollek. “We matched their physical play and were unlucky in failing to convert on a couple of great scoring chances. The girls were more organized and communicated better on the field.”

Against the Whundas, Ollek was pleased with the strong play of goaltenders Takarah Kubo and Kerragan Selman, defenders Kaitlyn Suzuki and Skylar Willey and forwards Sabrina Samra and Brandi Boyko.

Despite missing 10 players (because of a school field trip to Costa Rica), the MSS girls team picked up its first win of the season, defeating the Clearwater Raiders 1-0 on Saturday in Kamloops. Samra had the game’s only goal.

“We picked up a couple of Grade 7 and 8 players,” said Ollek. “The wind made the playing conditions difficult, but the girls put in a strong effort.”

Selman earned the shutout in net, while Kubo was solid on defence. The forwards were led by Samra, Willey and Maddie Webber.

Playing their second game of the day and down to one substitute, Merritt lost 4-0 to a good St. Ann’s squad on Saturday afternoon.

“Again, we had some good scoring chances but were unable to convert,” said Ollek.

The coach had high praise for his patchwork backline of Kubo, Amrit Cheema and Grade 7s Logan Moorhead and Makyla Cooke.

With a large number of regulars still away on the field trip, the Panthers were forced to forfeit this Monday’s scheduled league game against Sa-Hali. Nevertheless, Ollek remains optimistic about the long-term fortunes of his squad.

“Our goal is to peak as a team for the playoffs,” he said. “The key will be the confidence and strength of our backline.”