NCAA SPORTS: Serious about soccer

MARSHALL – The history of Southwest Minnesota State women’s soccer has not been successful.

Year-after-year, the Mustangs have posted losing records against collegiate competition with the only exception being the 1999 SMSU squad, which had a mark of 11-9-1.

Even in 2012, when the Mustangs won a then-school record three straight matches to begin their season, they lost their next three contests to fall back to .500 before ending up being 7-9-1.

But the 2013 season has been different. After a 12-0-0 start and a current record of 14-1-1, many of the current SMSU players believe there is no time like the present to begin a new tradition for the Mustangs – winning.

“I think that is why a lot of us wanted to come here to SMSU. We wanted to be able to leave a mark on this program instead of just continuing something that had already been successful,” said redshirt junior midfielder Autumn Hayes. “We’re trying to start a new tradition of a winning program.”

Coming into this season, the Mustangs all-time record stood at 94-196-21 for success rate of 33.6 percent.

The last two years have been difficult for Hayes, who is one of the SMSU players that has made a difference after recovering from a broken foot two seasons ago and overcame a blood clot in her brain last year.

“I am happy to be back playing again,” said Hayes, who has scored five goals and created three assists in 2013.

Hayes and Justine Hauck are both the second-leading goal scorers with five goals apiece.

The 14 victories in 2013 eclipsed the 1999 total of 11 for the most wins in a single season.

Individual Mustang record-breakers include forwards Miranda Cadena and Kendahl Fisher. Fisher has established a new Mustangs record for assists in a season, also with 11, while Cadena is the first SMSU player to score double-digit goals (11) in a season since Joell Dean had 10 goals in 2004.

SMSU has scored 37 goals this season in 16 matches this season.

Freshman midfielder Morgan Weyer-Coates is astonished by how fast the Mustangs have gelled together.

“Coming here, I knew the previous records were not good, but I never expected for us to this successful this soon,” Weyer-Coates said. “We are nationally ranked and, this far into the season, we have only lost one match. It’s been great to be a part of this.”

Midfielders can play as offensive or defensive players. Much of the role of a midfielder is to advance the ball upfield.

SMSU entered the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA)/Continental Tire National College Top 25 poll earlier this season for the first time in school history at No. 16. After dropping out of the poll for a few weeks, the Mustangs were ranked 25th and 21st in the nation the last two weeks, respectively, and have moved up to No. 19 this week. SMSU is ranked second, behind Minnesota State, in the latest NCAA Division II Central Region Rankings.

A 0-0 tie last Sunday against No. 4-ranked Minnesota State at Mankato allowed the Mustangs to make the jump in the poll. SMSU freshman goalie Brienna Dehkes has eight of the Mustangs’ nine shutouts this season, while junior goalie Denae Brooks has the other one.

“Goalkeeping at the college level has been more intense,” Dehkes said. “In high school, I didn’t receive any kind of one-on-one training. Coming here, there has been more practice time at a higher intensity level and training.”

Dehkes said she has learned how to be a better communicator on the field.

“You need to have good communication from the whole team in order to be successful,” Dehkes said. “I have been able to move better when getting the ball, which includes playing a dual-role as a sweeper and a goalie.”

A sweeperkeeper, as Dehkes said, is a goalie that comes out of the net area to defend the ball.

In 1,389 minutes played in 2013, Dehkes and the defense in front of her have allowed 10 goals in 16 matches. Dehkes has a goals-against average of 0.58.

Sophomore defensemen Kara Whiting and Megan Kilroy believe the reason for SMSU’s success is because the Mustangs are equipped with players who have acquired several different styles of soccer.

“I think the biggest difference is that we have more chemistry than last year because we gained a few players who fit our system better,” Kilroy said. “

Health has also been a part of the Mustangs’ success.

“We have stayed healthy this year for the most-part. Whereas injuries hurt us last season,” Whiting said. “We have a lot more chemistry because we connected a lot with each other during the offseason. It’s helped us to bring that onto the field.”

Learning how to play together and with a variety of styles has been to SMSU’s benefit.

“We learned how each one of us plays soccer,” Kilroy said. “You need to learn the style of soccer that your teammates are used to playing. That played a big role. I like to play next to Kendahl Fisher because I know how she works and we work off each other very well. Because we can play many styles of soccer, we match up well against a lot of opponents.”

Before the Mustangs could gel, they had to overcome drastic changes in their lifestyles.

“It was a drastic change for me and a lot of our players,” Fisher, a sophomore forward said. “Especially for me coming from California, where I have never experienced cold weather before.”

SMSU has 11 players who hail from warm-weather states, such as Arizona, California and Florida.

“Many of our players are not from Minnesota or even the midwest,” Fisher said. “It was good for me, in a way, that I could relate to them being away from home and that bonded us together. It has been a good transition for me because this team gets along just like a family.”

Fisher said the Mustangs like to bond by singing to pass the time on long road trips.

Other SMSU Mustangs include Kristy Leopold, Danica Requejo, Megan Haninger, Alex Pantze, Vanesa Corona, Lizzy Bruder, Lauren Houdek, Ali Baumgartner, Noami Peterson, Kayla Williams, Natalie Zobel, Sarah Keppler, Jessica Engbretson and Remi Sonsalla.

SMSU is guided by third-year head coach T.J. Buchholz, who is assisted by Delaney Marier.