Women’s soccer ready for new season

By Krystal Megan

The new season for women’s soccer is approaching as the team starts off with an exhibition game at the University of Cincinnati 6 p.m. Aug. 6, followed by a home game against Drake University Aug. 9.

“I think it is an exciting year coming up for us with the experience we have coming back,” said head coach John Ross, according to NIU Media Services. “It is another year where we are testing ourselves with the quality of competition we have on our schedule. The quality of our pre-conference schedule is what we need to prepare ourselves for the rigors of Mid-American Conference play.”

The Huskies went 5-11-5 overall and 3-4-2 in conference play last season. NIU made it to the MAC Championship where they fell 1-0 to the Kent State University Golden Flashes on a goal in the 86 minute. It was the team’s first MAC Championship appearance since 2006.

The Huskies went into last season’s MAC Tournament as the eighth-seed, and although not many saw them getting as far as the MAC Championship, there’s no reason to not expect them to improve upon last season.

The Returners

NIU is returning most of its core from last season. Junior forward Taylor Sarver, the team’s 2016 leading goal scorer, will be back at forward for the Huskies. Senior goalkeeper Amy Annala will be back in goal after suffering an injury toward the end of last season.

Redshirt junior midfielder Lauren Gierman, the team’s leading goal scorer in 2015, is returning after suffering a torn ACL in spring 2016. Gierman received First Team MAC honors in 2015 after leading the Huskies with six goals and three assists that season. Before Sarver’s seven goals last season, Gierman’s six goals were just the second time a Huskie had scored at least six goals in the past eight seasons, according to NIU Media Services.

Sophomore defender Jennie Nailor, sophomore forward Abby Gregg and sophomore midfielders Natalie Yass and Kelsey Chope, should continue to improve after being key contributors last season.

Yass started and played in all 21 games and led the team with five assists. Chope started in 20 of NIU’s 21 games and scored the game-winning goal for the Huskies in the MAC semifinals against the Western Michigan University Broncos Nov. 4.

Nailor led the team with 1880 minutes played and started all 21 games as part of the Huskies backline. Gregg scored two goals for NIU in 1121 minutes of action and started in two of the 21 games she played in.

What they lost

The Huskies lost four seniors from last season’s team in former defenders Alex Elias and Jackie Wandt and former midfielders Haley Cummings and Jess Wooldridge.

The player who could be missed the most on the pitch is Elias. She was the team’s centerback and one of the more vocal leaders on the team. She was also second on the team in minutes played at 1873 behind Nailor.

Though one person may not be able to completely replace Elias, the Huskies defense can still be as steady as it was last season, or at least close to it.

Nailor’s year of experience playing alongside Elias can only help the sophomore defender this season. Senior defender Natalia Pena, who was third on the team in minutes played last season, will also be returning, so there will be some continuity on the backline.

Running with Sarver

Scoring goals isn’t easy, but one of the weaker points for the Huskies last season was getting numbers running with Sarver.

Taking on one defender alone is one thing. Taking on two or more alone is another, and that’s what it felt like watching Sarver on breakaway situations last season. This isn’t to say Sarver’s incapable of taking on more than one defender, but rather having teammates running with her can open up more goal-scoring opportunities and make those opportunities less strenuous.

Who to watch

Senior midfielder Allie Ingham: She was a steady force for the Huskies last season, but soared even higher towards the end of the season.

Two of her three goals scored last season came within less than 10 minutes of each other in the MAC semifinals against the Western Michigan University Broncos. Ingham also knocked in the first penalty kick in the shootout against then top-seeded Ball State University Cardinals Oct. 30 in the Huskies’ MAC quarterfinals victory.

Ingham started and played in all 21 games, racking up 1614 minutes for NIU. She’s also not afraid to shoot it, as her 14 shots on goal were second on the team behind Sarver’s 21.

Look for Ingham to be even more aggressive offensively this season, and in turn, put more balls in the back of the net than she did last season.