Despite watching eight seniors leave the program after a semifinal berth last season, expectations remain high for a new look Lady Govs soccer roster.
The identity of this year’s squad will be different as 11 of the 23 girls will be newcomers. With just two true seniors on the roster, the importance of establishing leaders will vital as the team begins practicing this week. The returning players were able to get on the pitch during the spring, but haven’t been acquainted with the freshmen until the full squad reported on Tuesday.
“A big focus in the first week is going to be team chemistry,” head coach Kelley Guth said. “I’ve got 11 new kids, and they’ve got to get to know each other. We’ve got to work at becoming a team, so we’re going to be focused on that.”
Guth said there has been several veterans who have taken on leadership roles over the spring, pointing out Shelby Olszewski as a vocal leader. Seniors Claire Pultz and Frankie Carbajal will also be asked to provide experience on the pitch, as well as, junior Courtney Sheppard and second-ranked goal scorer from last season, Gina Fabbro.
However, replacing top scorer Tatiana Ariza will be very difficult.
With her absence at the forward position, scoring goals won’t come easy for the Lady Govs. With that said, the style of play will have to be adjusted a bit to suit a different mix of players.
“I think we’re going to be a little more blue collar this year,” Guth said. “Our team always has a good work ethic, but with the type of players we have, we’re going to be the team that battles and grinds through games.”
While the speed of Ariza may be gone, APSU will be able to match up better physically with more size this season. Guth expects the midfield and attacking positions to be the strength of the team, with the number one priority being the back line. The Lady Govs held opponents to just 22 goals last season, but much of the defensive unit is gone. This is where young players will get chances to step up on the back line, and provide depth.
With two exhibitions coming up — at Indiana State on Aug. 11, and at Kentucky on Aug. 13 — it will allow the coaches to move players around to try and find who is best suited in different roles. Playing three SEC schools prior to conference play will serve as key opportunities to compete against faster, stronger players before the important matches come.
With the season-ending loss to Morehead State lingering in the back of the returning players’ minds, the goal of competing at the top remains the same. It may be a young team, but Guth says it’s not a rebuilding year for the Lady Govs.
“My expectation is we’re going to fight to be in the top of this conference, so I don’t see us dropping off,” Guth said. “Our schedule is a lot tougher pre-conference, and I did that on purpose to try and challenge our team. Maybe our results might not reflect success early, but I’m hoping that it will lead us to success later, which is most important.”