Wayne State women’s soccer coach Bruce Erickson feels his 2016 Wildcat squad will have a lot more to choose from in the way of scoring weapons this season.
The top three goal scorers are back from last year’s team that finished 4-11-3, and with some new players coming on board who have shown potential to put the ball in the net, the hope is for this year’s team to be much improved.
“We’ve got more players who can score this year,” he said in his preseason interview. “We're not going to be a team that has a girl who can score 15-20 goals, which would be great to have, but I think we have about a half-dozen or so girls who can get 5-6. I like the pieces that we’ve added as far as incoming players are concerned.”
Leading the charge is returning senior midfielder Kelsey Engstrom, who scored three goals and had a team-best eight points this past season. She is joined by fellow starters Carys Hund and Christina Stasi, both of whom had three goals last season in their freshman campaigns.
Still, with that experience back from last year, the Wildcats will have a young team made up primarily of freshmen and sophomores.
“We have three seniors and eight non-seniors right now who we’re looking at starting, and I think that will continue to change,” Erickson said. “The good thing is that all our sophomores played last year as freshmen, so we’re still young, but we have some experience.”
Among those returning as starters are junior midfielder Suenly Galvez, who led the team with three assists and will be a key in the offensive attack; and sophomores Brooke Buzzell, Karlee Hall, Natalie Rech and Alexis Strothers, all of whom are battling for spots in the starting lineup.
Another returning starter is goalkeeper Kylie Comba, who made 115 saves last year and is a veteran in the Wildcat lineup whose leadership will be key to the team’s success.
“Kylie’s had three years of experience and been a starter the last three years, and last year she played every second of every game,” Erickson said. “Rachel (Grisham) is coming in as a freshman and has been fantastic, and I think she’ll push Kylie so we’re going to have some depth in goal, but Kylie has the experience and right now I think we’re better with her in goal.”
Hall and Strothers will help lead the Wildcat defense, along with senior defender Valerie Hernandez, who scored two goals last year; senior Jennifer Zick and sophomore Lexi Rosa. Also back are senior midfielder Hayley Hunter, junior midfielder Bryana Garcia and sophomore Hannah Knight.
Erickson also sees some potential in some newcomers to the team as well.
“Some of our top performers have been freshman,” he said. “Sophie Ketchmark has been great as an attacking midfielder, Sam Phillips comes here from Laramie (Wyo.) Community College and is a savvy goal scorer with size and good speed, and Madison Burgard is probably our biggest surprise and is putting her stamp on the left back position. I think we’ve got some good depth, and if we can find a center midfielder that can give us some good minutes and we can stay healthy, I think we’ll have some good depth this year.”
The Wildcats will have that depth tested right out of the gate this year, thanks to a schedule that sees them play four games in the first six days of the season. They open Sunday, Sept. 4 at Colorado-Colorado Springs, play at Colorado Christian two days alter and then follow with a game the following day at Nebraska-Kearney before their NSIC season opener at home against preseason favorite Augustana on Friday, Sept. 9.
“We have a brutal start, and part of that was by design, but it’s tough to try to cram three non-conference games into a 15-game conference schedule,” Erickson said. “We play four games in those first six days, and it’s crazy how that schedule worked out but we’ll deal with it.”
Erickson feels the team can do better than its preseason 11th-place spot in the conference coaches’ poll, adding that anything can happen after the top four sports in the league this year.
“Usually in this league, there’s a top four, a bottom four and a middle eight, and this year, the top four were easy to pick and after that, positions 5-16 are up for grabs,” he said. “We were picked 11th and we could finish above or below that. Our goal is to get into the top eight and get into the conference tournament, and once you get there anything can happen. If we can get the same results from our wins last year, turn ties into wins and upgrade some of those losses into ties or wins, we’ll have a better result this year.”