Discovering a new offensive identity and developing its young talent are two major obstacles for the Linfield women’s soccer club to overcome in its quest to remain a championship contender within the Northwest Conference.
After graduating their top goal scorer from a season ago, third-year head coach Cole McCool and the Wildcats must look to a roster of 17 underclassmen, along with just eight upperclassmen, to shoulder the offensive production.
But the newcomers’ resume of success – all hail from winning programs – breeds confidence and a competitive mentality. And when that is combined with the veterans’ experience in navigating pressure situations and adverse match scenarios, the Wildcats undoubtedly have tantalizing potential.
“Ability wise, it’s a really good group,” McCool said. “Talent is not an issue; it’s just getting them to understand how to play together and what college soccer is like and the amount of focus it takes.
“We have all the pieces. It’s just getting them to click as one, and in a hurry.”
Defense is Linfield’s most experienced area of the pitch, and gets even better with an influx of young talent.
Sophomore keeper Sarah Bailey, one of the team’s three co-captains, returns for her second season between the goalposts, boasting a .853 save percentage and nine victories.Senior co-captain Kendra McSheridan, a second team all-NWC selection, anchors the defensive line, with honorable mention pick Annie Ferguson suiting up at outside back.
Freshmen Lexi Kerr and Mary Cait Moriarty, along with sophomore Anna Penttila, should provide valuable minutes in starting or reserve roles.
This season, the Wildcats enjoy something they have not in many years: depth in the midfield. Their ability to succeed starts with Shelby DeRocher, a mainstay and co-captain that can play three different positions. She can provide lengthy minutes for Linfield and valuable leadership for newcomers Taylor Cole, Carole Thomas and Makenna Clizer.
On the attack are two groups of forwards, who need to work together provide significant offense. Hold-up forwards Dani Nurmi, Kyla Alvarenga and Amidee Colleknon can maintain possession and create opportunities for Linfield’s speedy wingers. The latter group includes veterans Karlee Willcox, Sami Moellmer, Ally Bushman and Jamie Mars plus rookie Baylie Cameron.
With so many options and offensive weapons at his disposal, McCool hopes to see more even goal scoring distribution than the Wildcats have experienced in previous years.He pointed to two clear advantages the team’s depth provides.
“It’s less easy to figure out how to stop us. We’ll be less easy to defend when there’s not a clear focal point,” McCool said. “And hopefully it can keep players hungry. If they understand that they all need to do more because there’s not one player to do it, it will keep the rest of the group hungry and motivated to help in any way they can.”
As far as team goals are concerned, Linfield still seeks its first conference title in women’s soccer. But for the ‘Cats, it’s more about the journey than the destination.
“We don’t want to talk too much about how we end up (in the standings) but more on what we accomplish in short-term periods,” McCool said. “If I say ‘we’re going to win conference’ every day, that’s not going to help us win. Achieving smaller goals on a daily basis is going to help us. We’re looking for constant growth, and to keep moving in the right direction.”
The quest to unseat 14-time defending champion Puget Sound begins Sept. 17 with a rivalry match against Willamette. Linfield must battle through five straight road matches during a mid-October stretch before playing four of its last five contests at home.