2017-18 PREVIEW: Goshen’s ‘Extra Sisters’ Start With New Faces, Blank Slate
Varsity roster set to include more newcomers than returners
GOSHEN, Ind. — The 2016 Goshen College women’s soccer team matched its 2015 output with 21 goals. The Maple Leafs earned two wins and a draw in their first three Crossroads League games, their best start to a conference season in school history. For the first time since 2009, the season ended in the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Crossroads League tournament.
Since the team graduated 16 seniors, you might think third-year head coach Scott Gloden would be happy to merge his 14 incoming players with 10 returners, turn in a similar performance (coincidentally, the Leafs have averaged 21 goals a year since 2007), and call it a day.
But the University of Michigan graduate is less interested in old yardsticks than in letting his new team forge its own identity.
“I always say that coaches love the preseason because it truly is a blank slate,” Gloden said. “When I think about the preseason, I always think about what can be, and that just gets me really excited. Two weeks before we even started, I was doing some recruiting and all I could think about was the start of preseason. It’s even a new season for players that are coming back: maybe they’re at a different position, maybe they’ve gotten better over the summer, maybe we’re expecting more of them.”
Numerically speaking, the returners comprise 37 percent of Goshen’s roster from last fall. On the field, they soaked up 35 percent of the starting spots, but just 19 percent of the goals and 6 percent of the assists. Rising senior defender Lena Charles, who has started each of the team’s 55 games since she got to campus, scored twice for the third straight year. Midfielder Megan Bower, who highlighted her freshman season with two goals and an assist, hinted at another scale of measurement for her 2017 comrades.
“Obviously we want to go out there and win games, but that’s not the be-all and end-all,” Bower said. “It’s about the progression of the team and players as individuals. For us, success is like going out there and putting 100 percent in—coming off the pitch and feeling like we couldn’t have given it any more.”
“I think we define success by improving from where we were at the beginning of the season,” added Caitlin Hughey, the team’s other senior “It boils down how well we can play together on the field more than playing as individuals.”
“The biggest challenge will be integrating all of our newcomers,” Gloden said. “We have 14 new players on our roster. That’s more than our 10 returners. Can we get those 14 new players to feel comfortable at Goshen so that they can help us be successful on the soccer field? When we can start doing that, I think we’ll be very successful.”
For an assessment of how his team could improve on its 6-10-3 mark—even though 2016 represented the second-most wins in the last decade—Gloden was blunt.
“Can we score more goals?” the coach asked. “We had some games where we scored three or four goals, and obviously we won those games. Then there were other games where we couldn’t find the back of the net, and those were games that we lost or tied.”
A season ago, GC scored multiple goals in seven matches, going 6-0-1. When the team scored once, it was 0-3. Two shutouts ended in draws and the other two in defeat.
After four seasons of Natalie Thorne and Molly Zook, two goalkeepers who each cracked the team’s top 10 in career saves, between the pipes, Goshen brings in three new netminders. Freshmen Katie Baer, Kassandra Rodriguez and Kadie Spoorcombined for six all-conference honors in high school, with Baer and Spoor each coming up one step shy of the state finals.
A quartet of defenders return to the roster in Charles, Hughey, Alyssa Arella and Carolina Villalobos Palacios. Joining them are two local products: Priscila Flores of Goshen and Deisy Lopez of Elkhart Central.
Bower figures to anchor a midfield with no player older than a sophomore. That group adds Saint Joseph’s College transfer Londyn Feasel along with five freshmen, three of whom are local: Lizeth Ochoa and Brenda Tellez hail from Elkhart while Rylea Zawadzke joins the team from Central Noble. Ohio product Talia Miller and Washington state native Rachel Porter round out the incoming class alongside returners Catherine Loera and Diana Ramirez.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the dynamic of this team and how everyone plays,” Bower said. “We’ve (almost) got a whole brand new team. I’m excited to see what they’re going to bring to the team, what strengths we’re going to have and how we gel. Everyone will have to come out of their shells and comfort zones.”
The attacking line graduated Ginyce Haywood and Melanie Drinkwater, who combined for 11 of the team’s goals in 2016. Along with Hughey, who split time between the front and back lines, Mara Beck, Taliah Borom and Makena Zimmerman return.
Gloden augmented his roster with a pair of junior college strikers: Allison Ebersole averaged a goal a game at Hesston College in Kansas, where the Larks hosted a regional playoff for the first time ever last fall, and Kaitlyn Begley added a goal every two games at Delta Community College in Michigan. Freshman forward Taylor Rex, an East Noble alum, completes the roster.
“One of the best parts about being on a sports team is getting that new family with all the girls and having extra sisters,” Hughey said. “I’m looking forward to creating a good dynamic among the team. But having a big incoming class is always kind of a struggle, just because they’re trying to learn the ropes and coming to a college-level experience from high school is a lot different level of play.”
As he ponders how to meld two dozen individuals and a projected starting lineup with four newcomers into a cohesive unit, Gloden returns to Bower and his two seniors.
“Those guys are all returners, but they also have good heads on their shoulders,” he said. “They were named captains, they know what the coaches want and how to be successful. They don’t need direction all the time. We’re really looking for them to help carry some of the load of the day-to-day tasks that we have to accomplish to be successful as a team.”
The Maple Leafs open their season on Wednesday, Aug. 23, kicking off their first-ever California visit with a trip to Providence Christian before meeting Soka two days later. The team comes home for a three-match, eight-day homestand from Sept. 2-9 in which each date is part of a doubleheader with the men’s program.
After a visit to Holy Cross, the team’s two seniors will be recognized on Senior Day, Saturday, Sept. 16 against Cornerstone: continuing the precedent of the previous two seasons, the gala coincides with the last non-conference home game rather than the final contest overall.
Conference play will see the team stay at the John Ingold Athletic Complex for the majority of its schedule (five matches out of nine), opening with Huntington University at 4 p.m. on the final day of September. That lid-lifter will reprise last season’s conference opener, one in which GC trailed 2-0 with 16 minutes left before scoring three goals in less than three minutes to pull out the 3-2 win.
Local rival Bethel College forms the second conference opposition, visiting on Wednesday, Oct. 4. The Maple Leafs travel to Saint Francis the following weekend before hosting Marian on Oct. 11: visits from Indiana Wesleyan and Mount Vernon Nazarene round out the home slate on Oct. 21 and 25, respectively. The MVNU match will double as the “Think Pink” event with proceeds going to breast cancer awareness.
The 2017 Crossroads League tournament will include the top eight seeds and run from November 1-11. The tournament champion receives an automatic berth to the NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship, which starts November 18.