Four years ago, eight Jim Thorpe girls' soccer players had to wait out a decision by the school board as to whether they had to play co-ed soccer or would have the chance to finally field their own team.

There was that potential fear yet again where there might be another year without a girls soccer program.

Monica Eckley, Samantha Hughes, Kristin Lawrence, Jeanna McElmoyle, Celeste Meriano, Jennifer Rusbarsky, Chelsea Smelas and Erica Smith will not only enter their final year of varsity soccer this year, but will graduate knowing that they played a pivotal role in the growth of the Olympians' program. According to Jim Thorpe head coach Rich Emmert, it will be one special season for these four-year players.

"They have come away knowing that this is their big year and time to shine," Emmert said. "There has been numerous conversations of where they were fours years ago, how this is their final year, and what memories they want to leave for future players.

"They have the understanding of how important this will be to all of the future female players coming into the program. Without their dedication, desire, and love of the sport, there very well may not have been a Jim Thorpe girls soccer program."

Looking back, it may have been a sense of relief for these young ladies when the girls' program finally evolved. For several years when a girls' program was on the agenda, individuals ended up being forced to play co-ed ball just for the sake of playing at the varsity level. Instead, these ladies had a lot less things to worry about once they stepped on the competitive field with opponents of the same gender.

And, according to Emmert, it brought the best out of this octet throughout their years of varsity play.

The 'best of times' didn't play out right away. As freshmen and sophomores, the girls were thrown into the competitive fire as they started plenty of games because of a lack of numbers. In doing so, they swallowed more losses than wins. In back-to-back years, the Olympians posted identical 2-14 records.

During their junior season, the Lady Olympians turned things around thanks to a boost in team moral. In the process, the team wrote themselves another page in the program's short history by qualifying for their first district playoff game with a 9-8-1 record.

In the eyes of their head coach, the fact of being thrown into the fire as young freshman was the best medicine in becoming better players.

"They have seen and played other teams that did not have underclassman starters, which gave them more confidence as the years progressed," said Emmert. "In the beginning they were scared. As freshmen playing seniors, it was intimidating to them. As the games progressed, they realized that age or grade had nothing to do with playing the sport. Their confidence level continued to rise.

"This is one of the great things they are passing onto the underclassmen. They have been in their shoes and with time and dedication they can overcome and become winners."

Now, as all eight return to start for the fourth season in a row, they have a chance to write the biggest chapter of them all.

Lawrence and Smelas lead the attack as forwards. Smith, Rusbarsky and Eckley will patrol the field as midfielders. Hughes, McElmoyle and Meriano will help protect the Olympians' cage on the defensive end. Hughes and McElmoyle may also see time again as midfielders as well.

"This is a coaches dream come true," said Emmert. "When you have the talent of these players, plus the years that they have played together, you come up with a win-win situation. They have learned from each other and have gotten the ability to know what their fellow teammates are going to do next. This season will show that with hard work and dedication you can rise to the top."

With the way everything has fallen into place to give these ladies that chance to field their own team, it has been a special time for their coach as well.

"This has been a wonderful experience for the players as well as myself," Emmert said. "We have grown to become a close knit soccer family. They have the strength, desire, dedication, and drive to be the winners they so want to be. These past years have had their ups and downs and through all the challenges the team has pulled through.

"They are all leaders and have brought something unique to the team. They should not forget all the good times they have had and the legacy they have created for future players. They have become valuable assets to the team, the Jim Thorpe School District, and the community. Everyone is very proud of their accomplishments and wish them well."