MARSHALL - One might think that the Southwest Minnesota State University Soccer team has great expectations. This team could expect to win many games with their 10 returning starters. They could expect to score easily with an All-American forward. And they could expect to return to the NCAA tournament after being ranked No. 21 in the NCAA Division II preseason rankings.
Coach TJ Buchholz has a different view on things. "There is a theme in our program. Never expect, always earn everything," said Buchholz before an early morning practice on Tuesday. Even though the team achieved their best record in school history last year, they are still focused on improving. "We just want to get better every day. Obviously, last year was special and you have to have a lot of things go your way to have a special season," he said.
Buchholz believes that this year's team will be able to build on last year's successes, "This is probably the deepest team we've had as far as talent," he said.
The Mustangs bring back an offense that routinely outscored opponents by two goals or more last season. In their 16 wins, the Mustangs outscored their opponents by a total of 39 to 11. Junior Miranda Cadena leads the Mustangs attack. Last season she scored 32 points, which was the most in SMSU history since 2004. She was also named to the NSCAA/Continental Tire All-America honorable mention team.
Cadena remains motivated. "I can't just come out and act like I got this because now I have to prove myself and do it again. As a team we need to do the same," said Cadena. The forward will have plenty of help from returners and new faces. Kendahl Fisher and Justine Hauck return as key parts of the offense. Junior transfer Kylie Redmond impressed Coach Buchholz even after one day of practice.
The midfield remains a pivotal part of this Mustangs squad. Senior Autumn Hayes is the "anchor of the midfield," according to Buchholz. Hayes started all 22 games for the Mustangs last season and was named to the All-NSIC team. "She's a fun player to watch because she covers so much ground. She's an important piece of our offense," said Buchholz.
Senior Alex Pantze returns as one of the best passers on the team. Buchholz also expects senior Morgan Weyer-Coates to play a bigger role in the offense. Weyer-Coates scored the game-winning goal against Minnesota State in the NCAA Central Region semifinal round last year.
The Mustang defense had a strong 2013 season. The team recorded a school record 10 shutouts. However, Buchholz believes that it's key for the defense to stay on top of its game. "We're going to have to definitely make sure that defensively we keep our organization," said Buchholz. "As a whole, we need to get better," he added.
Goalkeeper Brienna Dehkes returns for her sophomore season with high expectations. "I expect her to continues to assert herself because she is so talented," said Buchholz. Dehkes was named NSIC goalkeeper of the year in 2013. She broke numerous school records including wins, goals against average, shutouts, and save percentage.
Dehkes knows that last year's successful season brings new challenges. "Everyone is chasing us. Everyone wants to knock us down, so we just got to keep it up," she said.
Megan Kilroy, and Kara Whiting will provide upperclassmen experience on the back line. Buchholz expects big things from Emily Huddleston who is transitioning to a center-back role.
The Mustangs open up their season on Sunday Sept. 5 with a non-conference game against Fort Hays State (Kan.) at the Schwan Regional Event Center.