Armed with an upperclassmen-heavy roster that includes 17 juniors and seniors, returns its top five point scorers from a season ago and enjoys an easy transition to its first-year head coach, all signs point to Linfield again being a championship contender in Northwest Conference women’s soccer this year.
Cole McCool takes over the program after serving four seasons in an assistant role, and due to his familiarity with the program believes the team picks up right where it left off.
One aspect is different, however.
“They are hungry, hungry to do more than they’ve done,” McCool said of this year’s squad. “They’re pretty unsatisfied. We’ve used that to be really fit, to be ready for the season and to not be satisfied or have average days of training.”
Offense has rarely been an issue for Linfield, a team that scored a league-high 48 goals last year, and that remains the case this season. The ‘Cats return all-time leading scorer and all-American Emily Fellows, all-West Region pick Ellie Schmidt and all-conference performers Marisa Specht and Emma Vukic in the front field.
Tegan Grunwald and Dani Nurmi should also factor into the offense as Linfield looks to dominate possession, dictate the pace of play and be proactive on its offensive half of the pitch.
The Wildcats have some playmakers in the midfield, too. Senior and 2013 all-conference honorable mention Lauren Pyrch moves into a greater attacking role as, as McCool describes, a creative player that can score goals, make good passes and pick up on things many others cannot see.
After a year away from the program, Madisen Stewart is game to balance nursing school with soccer, and her experience should prove invaluable in the midfield. Freshmen Shelby DeRocher and Colette Sims are talented, versatile players who can play anywhere on the field.
About the only area of concern is in goal, as the Wildcats lost all three rostered keepers from last year’s squad to graduation and Linfield’s nursing campus. Linfield’s only experienced goalie is McKena King, who returns to the program after taking a year off, but McCool is working on developing one or more backups to both challenge for minutes and support Linfield’s sole netminder.
The good news is, in order to even reach the goal, the opposition must first get through the back line, in particular through Lindzee Baker. The four-year starter and three-time all-conference selection is a force to be recognized with as a defensive midfielder.
“She’s consistent, never runs out of gas, has a good attitude and is a good leader,” McCool says of Baker.
Juniors Jalyn Halstead and Regan Cox along with sophomores Kendra McSheridan and Erin Moller constitute the remainder of the veteran core for an otherwise young defensive unit.
Linfield remains a technically sound, skilled club, but a greater area of focus this season is on fitness, as the Wildcats have seemingly let a conference championship slip away the past few years.
Along with supporting a higher level of fitness, McCool believes that with the upperclassmen depth on his squad, he can more freely rotate through players, leaving the team fresher and healthier for longer periods of time, especially at the end of the year. Furthermore, the 2014 schedule is a bit more forgiving in November. Whereas the Wildcats ended with four games on the road last year, this season the reverse is true as Linfield plays its last four matches at home.
How well the team’s individual parts play together is another key focus area.
“Our team spirit, morale and chemistry are really good this year,” McCool said. “We’ve got a bunch of upperclassmen that have been through a lot together and they all seem to be willing to do whatever they need to do to get past what we’ve done before.”