Linfield’s goal entering the 2015 women’s soccer season is a familiar one, as it’s been on the minds of the Wildcats for the past several seasons. Winning the Northwest Conference would certainly make up for four consecutive runner-up finishes, but to do that the team has some holes to fill, particularly on the offensive end of the field.
After graduating its two top goal scorers from a season ago – who combined for 20 of Linfield’s 38 goals – the Wildcats need someone else to step up and score, not only on a regular basis but also come crunch time.
Emma Vukic, the league’s assist leader in 2014, is expected to shoulder much of the burden. The senior is the center point of the offense and has been given the “green light” offensively, but needs support.
“Who’s going to score when the game is on the line?” queried head coach Cole McCool. “Is someone going to step up and make it happen?”
Linfield’s second-year coach is counting on a committee effort: about 7-10 regular goal scorers, including two or three Wildcats with double-digit scoring outputs.
Stepping into the former role of three-time NWC Player of the Year Emily Fellows is Dani Nurmi. The sophomore, who exploded for a four-goal affair in the first conference match and worked her way into the starting lineup by the end of her freshman season, is capable of producing even more offense with a year of collegiate soccer under her belt.
Linfield’s biggest threat toward the goal lies in its wide players, which include two key returners amidst several new faces. Senior Rachael Gernhart’s speed creates major containment issues for opposing teams, while Marisa Specht has outstanding ball skills that allow her dribble through players to create scoring opportunities for herself and others.
Joining the Wildcats in those key positions are five newcomers, including two junior-college transfers. Kyleigh Jandro and Karlee Willcox, former teammates as Lane Community College, bring both talent and experience to the squad, while sophomore transfer Ashlee McFall is projected as a regular starter in her first season of collegiate soccer. True freshmen Sami Moellmer and Jamie Mars are also expected to log significant minutes.
Shelby DeRocher and Emilie Kongsore have been tapped for key roles as defensive midfielders, filling the hole of four-year all-star Lindzee Baker.
Linfield’s back line is about the only area that remains intact. Senior co-captains Regan Cox and Kendra McSheridan, along with junior Erin Moller have both the familiarity and skill set to stymie opposing attacks for the Wildcats’ relatively untested goalkeepers.
“They’re experienced, know what they’re doing and more importantly did it together all of last year,” McCool said. “It’s easy for them because it’s nothing new. They’ve had a lot of success and won a lot of games, so the moments don’t get too big for them.”
Annie Ferguson, Jamie Neimann and Yasmeen Ramos are among the most promising newcomers on the defensive end.
For the fifth straight season, Linfield must break in a new starting goalkeeper, and this year both are freshmen. But despite the youth of Linfield’s goalkeepers, McCool is confident in their ability to defend the net.
Elisa Randel has the “polish” earned from playing the position her entire life in competitive club environments. Sarah Bailey, a four-sport athlete in high school, is a raw talent with great hands and athleticism.
Overall, Linfield’s technical level and passing ability are high-quality assets. The Wildcats boast creativity on the ball, as well as a commitment to off-ball movement.
Combining those strengths with a rock-solid defense is key if Linfield is to vanquish Puget Sound’s 13-year reign as Northwest Conference champions. The Wildcats and Loggers meet in the second league match of the year, Sept. 20, and again in mid October. Linfield opens the year with two consecutive road matches and ends with three home contests.