Exceeding expectations: women’s soccer preview

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Owen Godberson
CONTRIBUTOR

Omaha taking on Denver in the Summit League Championship game. Photo courtesy of Kenneth Pancake.

Another season of Omaha Women’s Soccer is upon us, and the argument could be made that this is the most important in the program’s Division I history.

Coming off the back of their first-ever appearance in the Summit League Tournament, head coach Tim Walters has set a high bar for his young squad. Of the 25 players listed on the roster, 16 are underclassmen, with five true freshmen, three redshirt freshmen and eight sophomores. With such a young crop of talent, can the Mavericks improve on last season’s second-place finish?

With departure of Icelandic goalkeeper Ina Gudjonsdottir, senior Erin Bunker essentially locked up the starting role between the sticks. Sophomore transfer Chloe Behrens and redshirt freshmen Kelly Lemke both have the potential to be solid goalkeepers, but both lack the experience that Bunker brings to the team.

In her career, Bunker has registered over 2,000 minutes for the Mavs in 28 appearances. The Kansas native is averaging conceding 1.64 goals per game and saves around 73 percent of the shots she faces. She will need to be in top form going into her final season if the Mavs are to make it up to Brookings for the second consecutive year.

Staying in the defensive third of the pitch, the Maverick backline could be the biggest cause for concern for this team. Without the imposing presence of graduated center-back Susie Dineen, Omaha’s defense will need one of the returning defenders to step up. This defensive unit was largely comprised of freshmen last year, with Margaret Lavigne as the centerback partner to Dineen, flanked by Brylie Meyer at left-back and Katie Guhl at right-back. The Mavericks picked up some depth in the back this summer with the arrivals of redshirt freshman-transfer Avery Ripple and two new recruits in freshmen Colie Morgans, and Maria Eubanks, along with seniors Taylor Gelling and Mallory Edwards, the latter of the two missing much of last season due to injury. Edwards has the potential to be one of the most important keys to the Mavericks’ success this season, as seen in last year’s Summit League semi-final victory over South Dakota State when, according to Walters’ post-game tweet, the defender put on a “player of the game” performance against the top-seeded Jackrabbits. If the formation remains a 4-3-3, the likely lineup would be Edwards and Lavigne in the center with Meyer and Guhl hoping to improve upon their solid freshmen campaigns at the fullback position. With the offensive potency of other Summit League sides, Omaha’s defense will be tested often and will need to perform at peak performance to see the Mavericks into the post-season.

With the graduation of Emily Romero, Omaha’s midfield this season will be led by junior Andrea Daves, who finished last season with one goal and a team-high six assists. Daves can be a brilliant attacking midfielder, capable of creating a number of chances via slaloming runs through the opposition defense. However, there were a few games last season where the Denver native was a non-factor and didn’t offer that spark that was present in other games. The Mavericks need her to consistently perform to transition from offense to defense seamlessly.

Another player to look for in the midfield is senior Jaden Thiem, who rarely appears on the stat sheet, but is still an integral part of the Maverick spine. Her role as the center-defensive-midfielder doesn’t allow her to get forward in attack as often as Daves, but it does offer protection in front of the defense in case of a counterattack. Senior Sophia Roux will also look to bolster the midfield this campaign and improve on a lackluster season, only registering one assist last fall in 18 appearances.

Up front, Omaha will hope that their leading goal scorer from 2018 can continue her fine run of form. Junior Bailey Cascio tallied seven goals and three assists for a team-high 17 points last season. The Mavs only scored 17 goals last fall and will need offensive players to step up and find the back of the net. Without Kiana Dualan, who contributed to just under 25 percent of Omaha’s offense last season, the hope would be that recent additions Amanda Rapaduski and Lauren Mertz can make up for Dualan’s departure. Senior Abby Meader comes into this season after not playing in 2018 due to injury and could add that extra bit of offense that Omaha needs to get important results in league play.

This team, much like last year’s, has the potential to do some damage in the Summit League this campaign. They’re young, talented and well-coached, with many playing important roles in last season’s run to the Summit League championship. The team has been projected to finish sixth in the conference (only the top four make the post-season), and many project Denver to successfully defend their conference title from 2018. Omaha begins their home campaign on August 23 against Illinois State at Caniglia Field. All home games will be streamed on omavs.com, with commentary provided by MavRadio.fm.

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