In the moments after a tough loss last weekend, Washington State soccer coach Todd Shulenberger noticed something new in his players’ reactions.
Something that could define the Cougar program for years to come.
As the WSU players walked off the Lower Soccer Field pitch following a 2-1 double-overtime loss to BYU, the second-year coach saw irritation.
That’s not be confused with being upset after narrow defeats last year against Stanford and Northwestern, teams with a better tradition of success.
But attitudes are changing.
“Now they’re were irritated because now they expect to win,” said Shulenberger, whose team did just that with a 1-0 win over 13th-ranked Santa Clara on Thursday night.
And why should they expect to win against anyone? WSU is one of only 11 schools appear in the last five NCAA Tournaments. The Cougars have made seven trips to the NCAA postseason in the last eight years and twice reached the second round. Last year the Cougars won a school record-tying 14 matches en route to a third-place finish in the Pac-12.
Eight starters and 15 letter-winners return from that squad, including leading scorer Kaitlyn Johnson and goalkeeper Ella Dederick.
“This team is always up for a challenge, and they don’t back down,” Shulenberger said.
Johnson isn’t the only one who can put the ball in the net. Freshman Morgan Weaver, junior midfielder Chelsea Harkins, junior college transfer Alysha Overland, junior Kelsee Crenshaw and Tennessee senior transfer Amy are scoring threats.
Senior Kailiana Johnson, junior Sofia Anker-Kofoed and redshirt freshman Shayna Whieldon will anchor the midfield
“We’re expecting a great year out of Kailiana,” Shulenberger said.
Fifth-year senior Susie White headlines the back line.
Dederick had 99 saves as a redshirt freshman in 2015, most by a WSU goalkeeper since 2008.
Gonzaga: With 18 returning letter-winners and seven starters, the Bulldogs figure to improve on last year’s 2-12-5 record.
The biggest obstacle is the schedule. Last season, seven of this year’s Bulldog opponents moved on to the NCAA Tournament, while the West Coast Conference continued its reputation as one the toughest in the nation.
GU coach Amy Edwards, now in her ninth year, will ride the experience of nine seniors, including second-team all-WCC forward Karly Baggerly. Second in the WCC with eight goals, Baggerly’s 18 points ranked third in the conference.
In the process, Baggerly moved to fourth on GU’s all-time list with 18 goals.
Senior defender Aliyah Miller was honorable mention all-WCC last year scoring five points and starting 19 games.
Along with Miller, Gonzaga returns other key members of its defense. Sarah Carter, Ariana Pumpelly, Jodi Ulkekul and Savannah Van Citters all appeared in every game last season.
In a preseason poll, GU was picked to finish ninth in the 10-team WCC.
Eastern Washington: The expectations keep getting higher for the Eagles, who were picked to finish seventh last year in the Big Sky Conference.
Instead, they won a program-best 12 matches, finished third in the Sky and reached the postseason for the second straight year.
The final ledger: 12 wins, four losses and three ties – which be even better this year thanks to the return of all 11 starters, including Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year Chloe Williams.
Not surprisingly, Eastern is picked to finish second in the conference. It’s the Eagles’ highest preseason ranking.
Williams, a Lewis and Clark product, obliterated EWU’s single-season points record last year with 30 points in 19 games. Joining her up front is former Central Valley star Savannah Hoekstra, who scored two goals last year but already has three this year after getting a hat trick this week in a 3-2 win over Utah State.
Sophomore Jenny Chaves, a second-team all-conference pick, heads a deep group of midfielders.
Juniors M’Kenna Hayes and Laci Rennaker – both second-team all-conference picks – will anchor the back line. Mallory Taylor will be in goal; she had 85 saves last year.
Idaho: Even Eastern couldn’t match the surprising Vandals, who were picked ninth in the Big Sky and went out and won the regular-season title.
Now Idaho is picked to win it all.
“I’m very thankful to the other coaches in the Big Sky Conference for recognizing what we did last season and voting us as the preseason No. 1,” head coach Derek Pittman said. “But it is just the preseason. We have yet to step out on the field and we know that we need to prove ourselves day-in and day-out.”
All 11 starters from last year’s Big Sky regular-season championship winning side are back, while the staff also brought in a strong group of newcomers. Competition has been fierce in preseason and continues to drive the squad to improvement.
Eight Vandals were all-Big Sky in 2015, including Goalkeeper of the Year Amanda Poertner.
Pittman was also recognized by the league, taking home Coach of the Year honors. Junior Clara Gomez set the conference record for assists in a season with 13, earning second-team all-conference honors along the way.
Whitworth: New coach Bryan Olson is excited to take the Pirates in a new direction.
Olson was hired last winter to replace Jael Hagerott, who coached from 2011 through 2015, but resigned last fall to pursue career opportunities outside of coaching.
“From our first day together the team has been eager to work hard and to grow in understanding of who we want to be,” Olson said.
Whitworth returns 22 letter-winners, including 13 players who started at least one match. The Pirates finished 6-11-3 overall and 4-9-3 in the Northwest Conference while battling persistent injury issues.
Defender Hannah Langbehn earned second-team All-Northwest Conference recognition as a junior in 2015.
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