Watertown, Wis. -- The Sabercats Women's Soccer Team kicks off their season tomorrow, and although just 10 players return to the lineup this season, the team is primed for another exciting campaign - one that concludes on the NCCAA national stage.
Until that time, the Sabercats face two major tests. The first test is a stiff schedule which includes just three home games and 11 games against NCAA DIII opponents. On top of that, the Sabercats will be tested with three overnight road trips. They will play two games in two days on each trip.
The second test will be in the Sabercats' individual credentials. More than half of the team are either freshmen or sophomores.
Coach David Anderson recognizes the dominant number of underclassmen but sees it as an opportunity for growth; not as a threat.
"I'm excited about the potential for growth with such a young team," stated Anderson. "Having graduated so many quality seniors last year, we have a lot of youth stepping into big-time roles. We will definitely lack the battle-tested leadership of our senior class last year, but I think we have players who are ready for that challenge."
Some of the roles that Anderson and the Sabercats will have to fill are the 'big' shoes of Audrey (Risma) Knoedler, who was named as the 2015 NCCAA DII National Player of the Year and NCCAA Regional Player of the Year for three consecutive seasons. NCCAA First Team All-American Amanda Walton and 2016 NCCAA National All-Tournament selection Rachel Kibler will also leave significant holes in the Sabercats' starting 11.
"I think our biggest challenge is the flipside of my excitement for this season," Anderson noted. "With so many players stepping into new or expanding roles, getting our team tactics sorted and developing players within a variety of roles will be paramount."
Key returning players include NCCAA All-Americans Hannah Anderson and Alison Hernandez. Anderson was the first goalkeeper in program history to be named as a NCCAA First Team All-American and was between the posts during the longest shutout streak (584 minutes) in program history. Hernandez has been a stellar addition to the midfield and has earned back-to-back second team honors. Midfield standout Bethany Chesky and defender Janae Jorgensen, who fills the role of captain this year, will also be relied upon for their combined three years of experience.
Captaining the team with Jorgensen will be Hannah Anderson and Kim Grogan, who will help anchor the Sabercats' back line.
Watertown natives Rachel Prigge and Alyssa Wright will also look to step into more prominent roles this season. Prigge made eight appearances in the back line during her rookie season of 2016. Wright featured 13 times and made five starts last season as a sophomore.
The Sabercats' goal is to make a return trip to the NCCAA National Tournament, where their 2016 season came to a heartbreaking end via back-to-back shootout losses.
"We have set out several process goals as a team which I will not delineate here," Anderson remarked. "But as far as outcomes are concerned, we are focusing our efforts on repeating as North Region champions and earning a spot in the 2017 NCCAA National Championships."
Anderson will be joined on the coaching staff by Lindsay Hodgs and Julie Roer. Both Hodgs and Roer played for the Sabercats for two seasons.
"Ultimately, we desire to see our players tested in competition and rising to the challenges they will face with patience and perseverance," remarked Anderson. "As head coach, one of my goals is to increase our tactical understanding as a team so that we can be more of a threat going forward. I think this season shows a great prospect for growth and improvement both individually and as a team."
The Sabercats will begin the journey tomorrow against the Eagles of Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m.