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McLean girls’ soccer coach Rob Bouchard is in a unique situation at the start of the 2012 season.

After winning the 2011 Virginia High School League AAA state soccer title, Bouchard faces the prospect of replacing six graduated starters with a quintet of talented, but unproven, freshmen.

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to coach here,” he said after practice on Tuesday. “The feeder programs here are so good; the kids come into this team with a lot of talent and are ready to play in high school.”

However, replacing the likes of Melissa Downey, Andie Romness, Katie Yensen and Jordan Walker isn’t entirely possible.

“Those types of players don’t come along every day,” he said.

Bouchard called that group once-in-a-generation talents, but the freshman five who made their first-ever high school start last week against Falls Church in a 2-0 win could potentially earn the same label.

One of the biggest freshman additions is goaltender Maddy Dalzell, who senior defender Caroline Gray said won the starting job in the offseason and is winning the confidence of the backfield.

“Our new freshmen are doing a great job stepping up and filling in,” Gray said. “With more playing time and experience, they’re going to continue to grow. It’s very exciting.”

Filling in gaps left behind by some of the team’s offensive stars from last year are forwards Clare Beahn, Meg Degrafft and Caroline Meier. The defense adds freshman Audrey Freeman to help shore up the unit run by senior Rose Sommovigo.

For the freshman players, the biggest challenge they will face, according to Bouchard, is adjusting to the size change from middle school level soccer to high school level.

“The big thing is playing against kids who are 17 or 18 years and they’re 14,” he said. “Other girls have bigger body builds. Kids in Northern Virginia soccer are just huge sometimes, so there’s a bit of pressure there.”

The addition of the younger players has bred some optimism among the Highlander veterans.

Senior Brianna Neilsen said the team expected a considerable challenge with the senior departures from last year’s team, but the influx of youth has given the defending state champs a burst of emotional momentum.

“We lost a lot of great players,” she said. “We knew it was going to affect us a lot this year, but we have a lot of players to take over those positions and fill in.”

Adding five new talented freshmen doesn’t instantly make the Highlanders state title contenders this year. Although Bouchard expects the team to be competitive, the challenging Liberty District could present some growing pains for the younger Highlanders.

The team also is adjusting to a new playing style.

While the Romness and Walker powered offense of last season could seemingly score goals at will, Bouchard is expecting more workman-like efforts from his team this season.

“The identity of our team is changing,” he said. “It’s not going to be the 8-0 wins anymore. It’s not going to be easy and I’ve told the girls that now we have a bull’s eye on our backs [from winning states]. We’re going to be a more blue-collar team.”

ralbers@fairfaxtimes.com