As the Southern Columbia girls soccer team prepares to defend its state championship, one element of last year’s team remains the same — family.

With seven vacant starting spots on the Southern roster, it is clear the Tigers are primed to fill them while continuing to focus on the strengths of their team from last season.

Seniors and last season’s co-overall MVP winners Maggie Morrison and Gina Gratti discussed their attempt at repeating as state champs, keys to victory this year and the mentality of the Tigers at their camp on Wednesday.

Gratti delved into important facets of the defending PIAA Class 1A state champions.

“I think our first thing is the leadership on the field. We have four returning starters and I think those four people will help us build up and our sense of family. I don’t think we lost anything by losing those seniors. I think we gained by getting those freshmen and having that sense of family,” Gratti noted about the intangibles that are vital when recreating a title contender.

The four returning starters include Morrison, Gratti, Rilyn Wisloski and Morgan Marks.

Morrison, who knocked in 16 goals for Southern Columbia last season, added that making another run at a state crown is possible, but it depends on how the Tigers respond to the grind of the new year.

“I don’t think that a repeat is impossible. I definitely think it’s completely possible, it’s just a matter of how much work we put into it. What we put into it is what we’re going to get out of it. It’s all a matter of what we put into it during the preseason. I think our leadership is going to be an added bonus with losing seven starters we lost leadership. It’s just a matter of who’s going to step up and take the lead,” Morrison said.

During the team’s youth soccer camp Wednesday, Morrison addressed the impact a camp can have on the younger players honing their skills.

“I definitely think that, especially with how big our turnout is this year, I think that says a lot about how much the younger kids look up to us. I think that going into this season by playing to our full potential, we will show them what our whole program is about and the whole family aspect of it. I think by showing them that it makes them look forward to coming up in the program and working with us,” Morrison added about the camp.

One of the biggest reasons why the Tigers were so effective in the 2018 playoffs was their ability to track down the ball defensively and clamp down on the opposition routinely. Gratti acknowledged that in order for that part of the formula to work, Southern’s defense must use the power of words.

“If we could talk and talk enough to make sure that we don’t get tired and keep ourselves organized that’s a big help. Myself and Rilyn are the only returning starters on defense and she’s a huge help in the back with talking, because she can see everything. I try to talk as much as I can, but as long as we’re organized, we won’t get as tired as we possibly could,” Gratti said.

With Gratti and Morrison playing pivotal roles for the Tigers, making all-state first team, earning awards and being apart of a state title team — the first state title team in SCA girls sports history, no less, is there anything these seniors have to prove?

“I think a lot of what we have to prove is we’re not going to be cocky because we were state champs last year. I think we’re starting off with a fresh plate. Like every team in our area we’re all starting off in the same place. As of now we’re no better than any other team. It’s just a matter of how much we want to work and get there (state title game),” Morrison said about focusing on the new chapter of SCA girls soccer.

Gratti concluded the discussion, “Last year was last year. State champs is great and all, but as soon as that day was over we were like, ‘Okay, we need to rebuild. We need to work out as hard as we can like we did last year.’”

Southern opens the 2019 season Sept. 4 at Bloomsburg with a game time of 4:30 p.m.

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