Winder-Barrow High School alum and former Bulldoggs’ soccer player Cason Dowdy has taken the reins of the girls’ program and said he has found working with the Lady Bulldoggs so far to be “different in a positive way.”

Dowdy, a former boys’ assistant, is the third girls’ team head coach in as many seasons, but he said he’s been impressed in the early going with the play and demeanor of a senior-laden squad that is determined to lead the program to its first state playoff berth since 2012.

“I didn’t realize it until I was setting the starting lineup (for the first match), but it’s almost all seniors in our starting lineup,” Dowdy said ahead of his team’s season-opener Tuesday, Feb. 2, at Gainesville. “That’s going to be vital for this team, especially as we’re trying to meet our future goals. It’ll be an interesting season. They look amazing so far. I’m impressed with how they’re attacking the ball and how aggressive and hungry they’re playing. They’re ready to win and take on the challenge of getting the program going in the right direction.”

The strength for the Lady Bulldoggs should figure to be on the defensive end, where senior center back and co-captain Rachel Howard forms a solid back line with senior wings Angelly Castro and Amy Meono. Senior Payton Babb is also back at goalkeeper after earning a Mainstreet Newspapers all-area team selection as a junior.

“She’s looked solid so far, and I’m really looking forward to seeing her play more,” Dowdy said of Babb. “She does a great job out there of talking and is able to shape our defense well and see what the other players can’t always see. It’s a very good defensive unit overall.”

Senior forward Vanessa Vazquez will be one of the main players Winder-Barrow will lean on to help replace the production of the graduated Alexis Thao, who scored 14 goals last season, while freshman Victoria Guzman is a key newcomer who Dowdy said will help lead the team’s transition from defense to offense.

The Lady Bulldoggs were expecting a tough test in their opener against Gainesville on Tuesday night and another one at Oconee County (1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6) before their home opener Tuesday, Feb. 9, against Cedar Shoals.

“I was impressed with how we stuck to our plan (in the preseason scrimmage against West Hall), and I’m happy to see the girls playing with a very aggressive nature,” Dowdy said. “We’re going to have to adapt to different styles of play and execute different plans depending on our opponent, and the key to our success will be how much they can grow and handle those changes.

“I think we’ve got a good team mentality and positive outlook going into the season.”

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