Women’s soccer hopes possession-based style produces success


James Krause | Northern Star

Senior goalkeeper Julia Lentz executes a goal kick during women’s soccer practice on Aug. 17.

By James Krause

DeKALB — The NIU women’s soccer team hopes a new focus on techniques in summer camp will bring them success this season starting Thursday.

The Huskies struggled last season, going 1-9 and only scoring four goals all season. The season took place in the Spring 2021 semester due to COVID-19.

Despite the record, graduate student forward Haley Hoppe said a spring season with limited fans and games taught her to appreciate her time in the sport.

“I think COVID shocked everyone in many ways,” Hoppe said. “Something I’ve been trying to practice a lot more is being grateful, having gratitude, practicing gratitude and things like that. Just not taking for granted the time that you do have on the pitch because obviously, it goes by really fast.”

The attention of head coach Julie Colhoff is on the season ahead. Colhoff and the Huskies are looking to further evolve from a direct playing approach to possession-based soccer. 

Coach Colhoff believes the team she’s developed has the skills best suited to the style that prioritizes passing and ball control.

“I think we’re at our best when we are playing feet and playing in limited touches,” Colhoff said. “Can we work a ball to dictate the tempo by retaining possession rather than playing direct every time and trying to run it down? There will be moments where we go direct when the cues tell us to, but for the most part, it’s how we can build right through our midfield and build through our feet as often as possible.”

The Huskies’ focus on possession play comes after being outmatched 151-62 in shot attempts last season, though it’s far from new to the program. Hoppe said the adjustment to possession-based soccer has been one that slowly developed over time.

“When I first got here, it was a very different style of play,” Hoppe said. “It was very direct and something we’ve been working on year after year is like getting to that more possession-based play. It’s something that I feel like we have been working really hard toward, and something I’m really excited about this year, specifically because we have a lot of talented players.”

Hoppe scored two goals last season, matching the total of sophomore forward and Mid-American Conference All-Freshman teammate Kierah Meier.

Colhoff said a better understanding of different techniques and strategies has stood out in preseason camp.

“I think probably our technical ability is better this season,” Colhoff said. “Overall, they’re buying into different tactics with less resistance ideas and more like willingness overall, which I think has paid off so far in our session.”

NIU was able to test their new abilities with an exhibition game Aug. 8 against the University of Northern Iowa. The Huskies were ultimately upended 1-0 on a last-minute goal from UNI. Beyond the result, the game for Colhoff was used to measure where her team stood ahead of their season opener.

“Now we know what our strengths are and what we still need to work on,” Colhoff said at NIU Media Day on Aug. 9.

NIU opens the regular season on Aug. 19 in Milwaukee with a road meeting with the University of Milwaukee Panthers. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and is available on ESPN+.