Jenna Seddon didn't need to be a vocal leader for the Absegami High School girls soccer team last fall.
Then a junior on the area's premier team with nine seniors, Seddon simply played the game. She became a leader by demonstration, scoring a team-high 17 goals.
The senior forward, who committed to Rutgers University last year, still leads with her feet. This season, however, she's had to learn to use her voice.
"I have to be a lot more vocal to lead the team," Seddon, 17, said Saturday. "For the past two years, I was just part of the team. Now (fellow senior Rebecca Maguire) and I are the older ones. We both have to be leaders."
This Absegami squad is starkly different than the ones from the previous two seasons. In two short years, the Braves made a name for the Cape-Atlantic League and became widely recognized as one of the state's best programs. They earned two berths in the prestigious South Jersey Coaches Tournament (the first CAL team to do that in back-to-back seasons) and enjoyed lengthy South Jersey Group IV playoff runs.
Four Absegami players, including Seddon, were first-team Press All-Stars and another three earned honorable mention.
Among the current players, only Seddon, Maguire and junior goalie Hayley Grimm saw key minutes last fall. The Braves essentially had to start a new team with new dynamics. A team that lost three games all season in 2011 started 1-3 this year.
That put pressure on Seddon and Maguire, a center back, to guide a team with virtually no varsity experience.
"It was hard to get used to at first," said Maguire, 18. "Then, coach (Elizabeth) Lee sat us down and talked about how we should be leading the team. Things got better from there."
The Braves certainly have performed better recently.
Absegami (7-4-1) has won six in a row and emerged as a late contender for its fourth straight Division I championship in the CAL American Conference.
Lee said the Braves at first looked panicked and often resorted to a dump-and-chase game. Through the season, nerves have settled and Absegami has reverted to the possession-style play that brought the team such success in recent seasons.
"They're really just jelling. It sounds clich�, but that's what's happening," Lee said. "They're poised and composed."
Seddon said she had faith from the beginning that the team would hit its stride in time to salvage another division title. Only one team stands in the Braves' way.
If Absegami beats Millville (9-4-1) in Thursday's 4 p.m. game, the Braves will clinch the division title.
Not bad for a team of mostly new players.
"We just had to figure out how to play with each other," Seddon said.
Meanwhile, this season is the first stage of a program overhaul for Lee, in her ninth season with the team. After a few years at the top of the CAL, the Braves need to rebuild.
The next step will be replacing Seddon and Maguire.
"It's only two players on the field, but they're so much bigger than that," Lee said.
Seddon has scored 16 of the Braves' 24 goals. Maguire anchors a defense that has shut out three of its past four opponents.
Until then, the Braves can focus on their current campaign. For the seniors, they may get to win one last championship to end their career. And, thanks to the recent win streak, they may get a shot at one last postseason.
"I hope that we go as far as our potential can take us," Maguire said.
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