Soccer rebuilds after seniors leave

soccer-retools-following-record-setting-season

Soccer retools following record-setting season

RYAN HEUER

rtheuer12@ole.augie.edu

The Augustana women’s soccer team exists in a perpetual rebuild.

The coaching staff brings in large classes every year, which brings a large influx in talent, but the other side of the same coin means losing a boatload of seniors.

But that doesn’t prevent the team from competing.

Augustana graduated seven seniors in 2014, returning just five starters to last year’s team. The Vikings were still able to shatter the program’s single-season wins record and capture their first NSIC tournament crown.

The Vikings once again return only five starters, after losing another eight seniors from that record-breaking squad.

Augustana head coach Brandon Barkus, as always, will lean on the culture he’s built to carry his team through.

“With the players that have departed the program laying a really good foundation, the returning players know what’s up,” Barkus said. “And then the returning players have to mentor and guide the young players to get them to buy in. … There’s no magical answer or formula.”

Soccer differs from most sports in that coaches can’t call timeouts. Aside from halftime, Barkus isn’t able to gather his team for a pep talk. He puts the onus on his players to be leaders.

“Coach always talks about being empowered women,” said junior forward Ellie Knowles. “Just taking it upon (ourselves) when we’re on the field because you know you’re not going to get a direct talk from coach.”

But chemistry can only get the team so far. It’ll have to translate to results on the pitch. That starts with goal scoring.

Augustana averaged 1.8 goals per game last season, good for third in the conference, but well behind Minnesota State-Mankato’s conference-best 3.1 scoring average, and well behind Barkus’ expectations. He’d like to see that number climb closer to 2.5.

That hasn’t happened thus far as the team works to replace several key midfielders and forwards who have graduated.

The Vikings exploded for six goals against Southwest Baptist in the season opener but have scored just once in the three games since. But if scoring remains an issue this season, Augustana is in better shape than other offensively challenged teams might be.

Junior keeper Taylor Machacek returns for her second season as a starter. She started all 23 games last year and posted 11 shutouts, which shattered the previous school record of five. Her 0.65 goals against average was far better than any keeper in the history of the program that played more than three matches.

“I don’t know what my expectations were for last year,” said Machacek. “I didn’t want to be the worst in Augie’s history. I just kind of went out there and did what I normally do. I didn’t really think about it too much.”

Her last sentence is the key to what may be bogging the team down now. Augustana enters NSIC play this weekend with a 1-2-1 record. Even with all the roster turnover, these players aren’t accustomed to a losing record.

Both Knowles and Machacek said that the team might be pressing too much as it follows up indisputably the best season the program’s ever had.

“I think we’re putting the pressure on ourselves,” said Knowles. “Which is one of the bigger things. If you’re doing it to yourselves, you’re the only one who can stop doing it. If we can just … go out and play soccer like we always have been, that should help us.”

And despite the losses, there are lessons to be learned for a young, developing team.

“At the end of the day, it is about winning,” said Barkus. “But you’re not going to win them all. It’s how you deal with those defeats that defines who you are as a program. We’ve handled it well.”

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