*This story was apart of the Hastings Tribune 2015 Fall Sports Preview Issue. It was published on August 27th.
On December 1 the Hastings College Women’s Soccer team felt much like many teams feel at the end of a season – defeated. That final game, a 3-0 lost to Embry Riddle (Fla.) in the NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship Round of 16 in which the Broncos were outshot 27-1, is a game that still crosses Head Coach Chris Clements’s mind from time to time.
“I think you always think about your last game a lot, no matter when that game comes,” Clements said. “I’ve watched game film a couple of times this summer, to see what our weaknesses were and try to identify them and see where we need to go this year.”
Last season, Clements’ first at Hastings College, was full of first impressions and newness for both him and his players. He and his staff were tasked with trying to form relationships with each and every player, while incorporating new training methods, tactics and expectations.
“When we came in for camp last preseason, we had thirty girls and for everyone of them it was new,” he said. “It was new for me and everything was new.”
This season the newness aspect will be a thing of the past for the returners. This familiarity, between coach and player, should give the Broncos an advantage compared to last year.
“This year we’re returning twenty players and so that builds on that,” he said. “That’s the biggest advantage we’ll have this preseason.”
The Broncos return much of their core, except three seniors lost to graduation. Those seniors – Kelsey Nealon, Hailee Wright and Kelly Poland – were both leaders and contributors, but only one of which was still healthy enough to play at the end of the 2014 season. Those injuries, however, forced younger players to grow up and play in important games, says Clements.
“I think in a way we were lucky and unlucky. We lost two phenomenal center backs in Hailee Wright and Kelly Poland,” he said. “That was tough, but the blessing was that we had to make adjustments early. Those other center backs got experience in top-notch games.”
That influx of experience, combined with talent across all eleven positions, have the Broncos’ thinking big amidst sky-high expectations. Despite those expectations, Clements cites a plan and the importance of strong nonconference play to position themselves to make a run.
“Expectations are like any season, we want to win the national championship. That’s our underlying goal and that should be everyone’s underlying goal,” Clements said. “Our first three games are key, and hopefully we’re 3-0 after that. But realistically, I’d be happy with 2-1.”
That three game stretch to open the season – which features a game at home against Kansas Wesleyan, followed by games against Kaiser University (Fla.) and potential No. 2 ranked St. Thomas University (Fla.) – should provide an early test and allow the Broncos to see how they stack up against elite competition.
The Broncos’ schedule as a whole, including that three game stretch to open the season, will be one of the toughest in recent memory, says Clements.
“Our conference this year is tougher and we play every Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday for the whole season,” he said. “It’s going to be a grind. The season is always a grind and you’ve got to get the results every game.”
Clements will rely on firepower from All-American and GPAC Women’s Soccer Player of the Year Taylor Geis and First-Team All-GPAC Midfielder Megan Kruse on the offensive end. That offensive firepower, paired with leadership on the defensive end from the three lone seniors – Kayla Nelson, Jessey Peterson and Anna Stewart – should put the Broncos in a position to win.
Despite the talent across the board, Clements credits one player specifically with setting the tone for the entire team.
“One girl we see and appreciate, but doesn’t get all the all-conference voting is Maddy Paskevic. She’s a real engine for us in the midfield,” he said. “She was voted captain by her teammates and truly works her tail off.”
Along with Paskevic, Clements will look to Sophomore Emily Arrigo to really burst onto the scene and make a big impact.
“If I had to pick somebody, I could really see Emily Arrigo scoring a lot of goals this year,” he said.
With this talent-filled roster, playing time for newcomers could be few and far between. The ability to adjust and readiness at the beginning of camp will prove which newcomers are ready to step in and play.
“We have ten freshman coming in that are good. Playing time is going to be tough for everybody,” Clements said. “It will come down to how many freshmen come in mentally and physically prepared. But I really think we have some good freshman that can step up and apply some pressure.”
In the end, it’s all about how you perform on the field. Regardless of returning talent or preseason hype, without the play to back it up its just that – hype. Clements is well aware of that, and is determined to see his team leave lasting impressions on future opponents.
“Holy crap. That’s what I want the other teams to think. I want them to think, ‘wow, those girls really love the game,” he said. “I challenge and tell the girls all the time, ‘I want you to leave a lasting impression on everybody we play.”