Two points. One win. One goal?
No matter how one tries to quantify it, the fact remains that the Linfield women’s soccer program once again finished as the dreaded runner-up in the Northwest Conference, and with a 16-2-2 record, including one win against a Top-25 team, likely just missed out on an at-large bid to the NCAA playoffs.
“We had an unbelievable season…I don’t know what more I could ask for,” said head coach Dominic Doty. “The hard part is you feel like you still should be playing.”
In what has become a theme the past few seasons, the Wildcats set numerous program records, including single-season wins (16), shots attempted (431), shutouts (11) and goals allowed (10 total, or 0.48 per match). Other “bests” or “firsts” included a 6-0 start, seven-match win streak and appearance in the national poll as the 25th-ranked team in Division III.
Individually, while not matching her program-record 26 goals of two seasons ago, Emily Fellows posted the second-highest scoring total in Linfield history with 18 goals and six assists (42 points). She was named the NWC Offensive Player of the Year and was a unanimous selection to the first team after leading the league in goals, outpacing the league’s second most prolific scorer by a 2:1 ratio.
Her success this season is perhaps even more impressive than what she accomplished as a rookie. Fellows is no longer a secret threat and therefore garners a tremendous amount of defensive attention, usually drawing double-team coverage.
At the same time, Fellows also got plenty of help from freshman Emma Vukic, who cracked the starting lineup seven matches into the year and went on to tally six goals and six assists.
“Down the road, that’s going to a pretty dynamic duo,” Doty said, after witnessing how well his two offensive stars clicked toward the end of the year.
Midfield play was key, too, particularly with the talents of first team NWC all-star Anna Sours and honorable mentions Stephanie Socotch and Julia Vaughan.
“Our midfield players figured out how to dominate matches and how to put us on a good foot going forward,” Doty said. He commended Sours for her leadership, Socotch for doing the dirty work that often goes unnoticed and Vaughan for showing glimpses of how powerful of a player she can be.
First-year varsity players Tegan Grunwald, Jalyn Halstead, Kendra Howard, Mallory Nickles and Marisa Specht also contributed solid minutes in both starting and reserve roles.
Defensively, the Wildcats were led by NWC Defensive Player of the Year Emily Allison. A three-year starter, the senior took over primary leadership of the backfield this season, working in tandem with Lauren Pyrch and NWC first teamer Lindzee Baker.
With a solid back line in front of her, keeper Taylor Collinsworth often could rest easy. But when called upon, the first-year starter who stands just 5-foot-4 rose to the occasion, making 38 stops over 1827 minutes en route to a 0.49 goals against average that ranks first in the single-season record books.
With the team’s overall record including just two losses and two ties, there aren’t many negatives to point to. But one thing the Wildcats struggled to do was finish at the net. Linfield certainly had chances to score – outshooting its opponents 431-105 and outpacing the rest of the league by 114 shots – but only scored 40 goals. Part of the problem lies in the team’s attacking style of play.
“We dominate the ball and push a lot of numbers forward, which in turn means that teams put a lot of numbers behind the ball,” Doty said. “They bunker in a bit more. So it’s harder to finish sometimes and it’s harder to create really open chances because there are just so many numbers. That’s a challenge for our team.”
Because finishing relies on a combination of technique, confidence and power, however, there are ways coaches and players can work together to increase the conversion rate.
“We’ll score goals, there’s no doubt about it.”
After two consecutive years of maintaining control of the NWC title race up until the final weekend of play, the Wildcats also hopefully now have enough experience to handle the mental switch from being the underdog to being the hunted.
“Any team that’s been good knows this…teams get up for you,” Doty said. “That’s the situation we want. But with that has to come the knowledge that everybody is going to give you their best. Nothing is going to come easy.
“Now every game needs to be at your maximum effort, no letdowns.”