Collins: Team moving forward despite loss of first-ever graduating class

Questions fill season five of the Lady Blues soccer program.

The team could overshadow last year’s record setting season, or it could take a step back while adjusting to the departures of an oversized graduating class. Because 10 seniors departed from last year’s MIAA championship team, 2007 might appear to be a rebuilding year for Washburn soccer. However, the team’s talented newcomers and experienced returnees are enough for the Lady Blues to still be considered legitimate title contenders.

In each of the Lady Blues’ first four years, they won more games than the season before. A key to their success was the experience they gained by playing together and gelling as a team.

Now, the Lady Blues who played on the first ever Washburn soccer team in 2003 are gone, and so too is their goal of just making the NCAA tournament. An early round tournament loss would be considered a disappointment for the constantly improving program.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better year for the 10 seniors that moved on,” said head coach Tim Collins. “And for the returning players, it created a great deal of hunger and desire to go further than where we’ve gone before. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s a challenge that they’re rising to. With eight freshmen and four transfers, we have a terrific mix. We’re moving forward, not just to pick up where we left off, but to go beyond that.”

If the newcomers play as well as they have in preseason practices and the season opener, there is no reason for them to have any difficulty filling the shoes of the graduated players.

“We started off a little slow as a team, with all the new players,” said junior forward Jessica Mainz. “But once we got things going, we knew we were going to have a very good year.”

Coming in to this season, it appeared goalkeeper Jenna Hatlestad, who played every minute of every game last season, would be one of the hardest players to replace. But Jenny Persons, a junior transfer from UTEP, and Ashley Klone, a freshman from Wyoming, split time in practice and have done a solid job of replacing the first team all-conference goalie.

“We’ve got really impressive goalies,” said senior Brie Forman. “They’re probably going to share time because [Klone] has gotten good enough to where we can’t just sit her. They both have their strengths, and I don’t think you can say that one’s better than the other.”

Incoming players have already contributed offensively as well. Iowa transfer Manon Englehardt scored two of the team’s three goals in Saturday’s 3-3 tie against Central Oklahoma, and the newcomers have already started adapting to the rest of the team’s style of play.

“We’re doing really well,” said junior Kaydi Hooker. “As a team, we still have a lot of chemistry. And skill wise, I think we’re just as skilled, or even more skilled, than we were before.”

It should not take long for the new Lady Blues to get the winning mentality so many of the returning players talk about. Entering the season as favorites to repeat as conference champions, and ranked 13th in the nation, the entire team is looking forward to an improvement on last season’s impressive tournament run.

“Being one of the best defensive teams in the MIAA, we want to advance further than we did last year,” said Hooker. “We made the Sweet 16, so hopefully now we can win the region and advance to the Elite 8 or further.”

Soccer schedule

Aug. 25 Central Oklahoma 1 p.m.Aug. 26 Midwestern State 3 p.m.Aug. 29 Rockhurst 7 p.m.Aug. 31 SW Oklahoma 5 p.m.Sept. 2 West Texas A&M noonSept. 8 Emporia State 2 p.m.Sept. 14 Central Missouri 7 p.m.Sept. 15 Missouri Western 7 p.m.Sept. 21 Truman 2 p.m.Sept. 22 Northwest Missouri 2 p.m.Sept. 27 Southwest Baptist 7 p.m.Sept. 28 Missouri Southern 7 p.m.Oct. 4 Emporia State 7 p.m.Oct. 7 Metro State TBAOct. 12 Northwest Missouri 7 p.m.Oct. 13 Truman 7 p.m.Oct. 19 Missouri Western 7 p.m.Oct. 20 Central Missouri 7 p.m.Oct. 26 Misouri Southern 7 p.m.Oct. 27 Southwest Baptist 2 p.m.Nov. 3-4 MIAA Tournament TBA

Home games in bold Neutral sites in italics