After a 4-13-1 record last season, the Youngstown State University women’s soccer team is trying to right the ship this year. Despite the efforts of former senior defender Brittany Dowd and forward Allison Ludwig being enough for each to garner Horizon League Second Team honors, it wasn’t quite enough for the team to have a lengthy postseason run.
Last November, the sixth-seeded Penguins were bounced from the Horizon League Tournament in the opening round, 6-2 at the hands of the Oakland Grizzlies in Rochester, Michigan. This season brings new hope in the form of a group of new players.
In February, on National Letter of Intent Day, the Penguins added nine new recruits to a team that was marred by injuries that resulted in the loss of a few impact players. The team had six players who were injured a year ago, plus one other player who was ineligible.
Senior forward Chelsey Haney and junior midfielder Katie Hohmann have one goal in mind for the new season — the Horizon League title.
“We want to win all of our games,” Haney said. “But we want to prepare before conference play so our non-conference games still mean something — so they’re just to prepare us for conference and to get us into the NCAA tournament. Hopefully, we get the ring.”
“Our expectations are very, very high,” Hohmann said. “We’re holding ourselves to a very high standard, probably the highest we’ve had yet. We should be going very far and accomplishing a lot.”
Haney was impressed at how quickly new freshman forward and midfielder Katie Hackos jelled with her team.
“Katie’s very valuable to our team,” Haney said. “She’s had a great preseason, looks great, and passed all her fitness tests.”
Hohmann was equally impressed with two players in training camp.
“I liked what I saw out of defender Macey Riese, but we also have an incoming freshman, Sophie McFarland, who’s been doing very well at center back, as well,” she said.
Head coach Will Lemke discussed how much motivation the team has drawn from last year’s miscues.
“We were really depleted and the girls knew that they had to play tough, but we just couldn’t get over the hump,” Lemke said. “They’re really eager and they have their starters coming back — and we only lost two starters, as well.”
Lemke said he believes that his team is on a mission this year.
“They’re really excited to put it all together and make teams pay this season,” he said.
Earlier this month, the ‘Guins played a preseason exhibition match versus the Western Illinois University Leathernecks, a match won 3-0 by YSU. Lemke notes that his team felt more ramped up in the wake of the victory.
“That win has provided more fuel to the fire for their motivation,” he said.
As far as injuries are concerned, Lemke assures that the team is pretty much back to full strength going into the new season.
“We’ve got two starters who were out last year back,” he said. “Chelsey and left back Shannon Leghart are almost fully clear. In the next week or so, both will be game cleared and we expect them to be back.”
Among the nine new faces on the team this year, Lemke points to one who stands out above the rest — forward Stephanie Reyes, who was interested in continuing her career at UCLA.
“To get her away from a school like that was a big deal for us,” he said. “All of our players are solid and all can contribute.”
However, Lemke notes that some players have bigger roles to fulfill than others.
“Sophie and Marissa Martin will have to step up as center backs,” he said. “We lost Brittany Dowd to graduation last year, and she was the heartbeat of the team. Sophie and Marissa have their own talents, so they went in and did a good job.”
McFarland has impressed Lemke in camp with her aggressive nature and on-field intelligence.
“She talks to her teammates a lot, which is important to her position,” he said. “She’s very important as a freshman coming in, and has done a good job just fitting right in there. Her communication and intensity has suited her well.”
Hackos enters the program coming off a great year at Central York High School last season, scoring 21 goals. Lemke believes that she’ll be a valuable asset to YSU going forward.
“Katie’s a really nice player who can create goals out of nothing,” he said. “She almost had a couple of goals in our friendly against Western Illinois, but the ball hit a puddle, otherwise it would have been in. She’s like a water bug out there, all over the place.”
Lemke will look to Riese for veteran leadership on the team this year.
“She’s garnered a little more responsibility with Brittany no longer here,” he said. “Macey’s stepped up and become like the quarterback of our defense. Likewise, fifth-year senior defender Kearsten Sego has been around a long time and is one of our best athletes, if not our best athlete.”