Heading into the 2012 soccer season, the UNI women’s soccer team looks to build off of the success they had on the field in 2011.
UNI returns five of their top six scoring threats from a season ago with seniors Ashley Capone and Melissa Hagan leading the way with 10 points and eight points respectively. The Panther’s roster consists of 12 upperclassmen and 19 underclassmen, but despite being so young, the leadership hasn’t faltered.
“We will look to all of the seniors for leadership,” said head coach James Price. “They all lead in different ways. Kiki McClellan has been a big part of our team since freshman year while Melissa Hagan and Kelsey Dolder are a little bit quieter and great people off the field, and Ashley Capone has matured as well over the years and has really offered some leadership. Then in the junior class you have Sam Copley and Allie Brees that will offer some leadership as well so we have plenty of leaders. I don’t know that we have one person that we look to.”
Senior Kiki McClellan says the team is focused on advancing farther: “As a team, every year we need to improve. Last year we made it to the semifinals of the MVC tournament. This year we want to make it to the tournament and get past the semifinals.”
Fellow senior Ashley Capone has another goal in mind for the Panthers: “I think another thing we want to improve is our fitness. Our goal is to be the fittest team in our conference. Being a senior and our last year here we want to make it the best year. With as hard as we’ve worked we’ve come this far and I think we just want to go out the best way possible. We definitely want to win conference. We keep improving every year so we want to get to the top this year.”
The biggest change in 2012 for the Panthers will be the defense. Six seniors that graduated from the 2011 squad played most of the minutes on the defensive side of the pitch including a goalkeeper that split time with current junior goalkeeper Erin Zaideman. Each of the six tallied at least six starts and 12 games played. Senior Kelsey Dolder and juniors Grace Schield, Allie Brees, and second-team all-conference selection Sam Copley all received valuable minutes on the defensive side in 2011 and will have to step up even more to fill the void left in the defense.
“We will have more changes on defense because we lost some seniors who played a lot so we’ve been working on that in the spring a little bit and now in the preseason with some of the freshman who have come in who are natural defenders. The formation will stay the same but we’re looking at different combinations in that formation and we are still trying to work those things out,” Price said.
Zaideman will look to be the opening day starter for the Panthers between the posts. Zaideman posted three shutouts in seven starts and played in 14 games in 2011. The goalkeeper turned away 45 shots as a sophomore en route to a 4-5-1 record and a solid 1.13 goals against average and a .776 save percentage for UNI in 2011.
Despite the number of underclassmen listed on the roster, the Panthers will possess plenty of depth at most positions, including a number of athletes with plenty of college experience and newcomers with a plethora of club experience as well.
“They (underclassmen) have lots of talent. A lot of them have played on a good level, club soccer, so I would say they have good experience. They have a lot of talent and enthusiasm so we’re just going to plug them in to the system and let them enjoy it and find their feet and get involved,” Price said.
Assistant coach Sonia Rodriguez thinks the team can be really special this season. “We’re going to be very athletic. Our freshmen add a lot of athleticism. We’re going to be very young. We have four seniors and I think if we can combine that leadership with the athleticism we can be really good.”
On the offensive side of the ball the Panthers return a wealth of experience including Capone, McClellan, Hagan, and Dolder, juniors Claire Clark and Allie Brees and explosive sophomore Caitlyn Fuller. Capone, McClellan, Hagan, Brees, and Fuller played all 21 games for UNI last season.
Teaching the underclassmen a few tricks will certainly help the Panthers’ chances.
“Work ethic. We (the four seniors) have come a long way and gone through a lot and we want to pass that on. It (working hard) really is the heart of our team and if you work hard you can get to where you want to be” McClellan said.
Ashley Capone agreed that developing the younger players would be key to the teams’ success.
“With that, speed of play,” Capone said. “It is faster than what they played in last year and I think the best way to show that is just by doing it in practice.”
Two freshmen Sarah McHugh and Larin Gordon, tend to agree. “I think the commitment level is a lot higher and the speed of play is higher because everyone is at a better level,” McHugh said.
“Speed of play with commitment level definitely. You have to want it. You have to come in here knowing what you’re getting yourself into,” Gordon said.
The Panther midfield also boasts a wealth of options in 2012 with seniors McClellan and Capone, junior Sam Copley, and sophomores Katherine Young, Nicole Rondeau, Charlotte Jones, Madisen Garman, and a member of the 2011 MVC All-Freshman team in Caitlyn Fuller.
Capone leads the charge for the Panthers at the forward position after tallying four goals and two assists in 2011. The senior will be joined up front by fellow seniors Melissa Hagan and Kiki McClellan, junior Claire Clark, sophomores Madisen Garman, Katherine Young, and Caitlyn Fuller, and incoming freshmen Rachel Carney, Annie Dale and Maddie Welch.
When asked about team goals Price said, “we want to be a hard-working team that respects our opponents and anyone we come across in the community. I think if you have those things and you’re talented you can go places.”
That work ethic that will be shown on the field this season has the Panthers excited and ready to compete.
“We’re excited” Price said. “We have a very talented group and a very deep group. We have a lot of talent at every position so we’re excited to get going and figure out our combinations in the formation.”
The team adjustments are key to the success on the field, but adjustments off the field are important too.
“I live about five hours away so being far away from home was a big one for me. Learning how to play with a bunch of different girls I’ve never met before was interesting” said freshman Sarah McHugh.
Fellow freshman Larin Gordon has a different take: “I live only 15 minutes away in Waterloo but I would say the biggest thing for me is coming from such a small high school of 300 kids you go from being the top dog to the underdog because everyone is just as good, if not better. Adjusting to everyone else’s play has been one of the hardest things to do.”
The new setting has Gordon excited for what’s to come.
“We’re excited. It will be interesting to see what college games were like compared to high school. It will be fun to travel to other schools because in high school you don’t get to play against people from all over the country every day, so that will be fun.”
The Panthers will look for success during a daunting schedule in 2012.
“There are some tough games and some tough away games,” Price said. “I think that is what really strikes us about our schedule during non-conference and conference. We have to go to some tough places and we know about that. We have been testing the girls already by getting them outside of their comfort zone. It’s going to be tough, there’s not an easy game on the schedule so we’re going to have to prepare for each one and take it one game at a time. Every team is going to deserve 100% of our respect and we’re going to have to really, really prepare for each game.”
UNI will kick off the regular season Aug. 17 at home against North Dakota. UNI then hits the road for two matches in Illinois against Western Illinois and Eastern Illinois. The Panthers return home to face off with intra-state rival Iowa before traveling to Edwardsville, Ill., for the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville tournament. The Panthers will face host-team SIU Edwardsville to wrap up the August schedule and square off with Green Bay for the second and final game of the tournament to open the September schedule. The Panthers remain on the road for three consecutive contests following the tournament against intra-state rival Iowa State, and hit the east coast for matches against Charleston Southern and The Citadel. UNI returns home to square off with North Dakota State before traveling to Brookings, S.D., to face South Dakota State. UNI opens up Missouri Valley Conference play on the road against Indiana State before returning home to face St. Ambrose and MVC foe Drake to wrap up September and Missouri State to open October. The Panthers hit the road yet again to continue MVC play against Illinois State and Evansville before returning home to wrap up the regular season and conference season against Creighton.