Next coach up.
It’s become a mantra for the Washington State women’s soccer program, which has enjoyed runaway success despite a whirl of coaching changes.
Now it’s Todd Shulenberger’s turn.
“It’s my job to keep the ship afloat managing this team,” said Shulenberger, who took over the program in April following the sudden resignation of Steve Nugent.
“There’s a great culture here that’s been developed: next coach up and let’s keep winning,” said Shulenberger, a former assistant at Clemson, Missouri and Texas Tech.
So far, so good. The Cougars are 2-0 following a 3-1 home win over Idaho on Monday night. With six returning starters and 16 letter winners, WSU appears to have a decent chance to make its fifth straight trip to the NCAAs and its seventh in eight years.
That success began with defensive-minded Matt Potter, who gave way to the attacking style of Keidane McAlpine in 2012 and 2013. After McAlpine left for USC, the Cougars turned to Nugent, who led them a 10-5-4 mark and a tie for fifth place in the rugged Pac-12.
The 43-year-old Shulenberger plans to keep the play up-tempo. The transition will be easier thanks to veterans such as senior Beau Bremer, who led the 2014 team in total points with three goals and four assists; and senior Cara Wegner, the team’s leader in assists last season.
In addition, senior Kourtney Guetlein is tied for third in WSU history with 16 assists in her career. Defensively, sophomore Jordan Branch returns to the field, after being named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team in 2014.
The biggest question is goal following the graduation of Gurveen Clair. “It’s our deepest position but also our youngest,” said Shulenberger, who started redshirt freshman Ella Dederick in the first two matches against Seattle and Idaho.
Bulldog soccer is trending, in a good way.
Last year, they went 9-9-1, their first non-losing season since 2007. In the process, they’ve moved up the ladder in the difficult West Coast Conference, going 4-4-1 last season.
So what does that mean in this, GU’s 25th season? Optimism, considering the Bulldogs return six starters and 11 letterwinners, including four all-WCC players.
Two of them are Heather Johnson and Karley Baggerly, the Zags’ top goal scorers from last year.
The defense has been a driver to Gonzaga’s ascent in the conference in recent years. In each of the last three seasons, the Zags’ goals-against average (GAA) has decreased. In 2014, the Zags allowed just 1.32 goals per game, down from 1.39 in 2013. Last year’s mark is the lowest GAA since 2007, when they allowed less than one goal a match.
Sarah Carter and Aliyah Miller return to a defense that allowed just 1.32 goals a match last year. Both started all 19 games a season ago, and were integral in the team’s five shutouts. Carter’s 1,693 minutes played was the second-most of any field player.
Christie Tombari is back in the net for GU in 2015. She has a career goals-against average of 1.39 and had five shutouts last year.
The promise of last year got even better last weekend, as the Eagles opened the season with wins at Texas-El Paso and New Mexico State.
Coach Chad Bodnar set the bar high during his first year, leading Eastern to five Big Sky Conference wins and its first postseason berth in five years. Now the Eagles are looking for more success while focusing on the process.
“We really haven’t talked about last year,” Bodnar said. “It’s a long, grinding season, and if we can reach small milestones along the way and keep the process in mind, we’ll have a chance to improve on last year’s success.”
That included an 8-9 overall record and 5-5 in the Big Sky, but the Eagles lost six starters. This year’s squad includes 13 freshmen and 11 sophomores, and just 12 of EWU’s 31 players have experience at the NCAA Division I level.
The Eagles are picked seventh in the Big Sky largely because of sophomore forwards Chloe Williams and Savannah Hoekstra, who combined for 12 of EWU’s 27 goals last year.
The midfield is anchored by senior Tasha Luu, junior Kiana Haferty and sophomore Lacu Rennaker, while M’Kenna Hayes is the lone returning starter on the backline.
With nine returning starters on a team that went 4-4-2 last year in the Big Sky, the Vandals figure to move up in the standings.
Second-year coach Derek Pittman has said throughout the preseason that there’s open competition at every position, and has given several newcomers a chance to make an immediate impact.
“We’re definitely open, there’s a lot of competition at every position,” said Pittman. “It will be exciting to see how the battles will play out in various spots.”
Idaho returns nine starters from last year’s squad that went 4-14-2 overall. The Vandals have 11 returning letterwinners.
Up front, the Vandals return their top three scorers, including sophomore Olivia Baggerly, who led the team with four goals and three assists in 2014.
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