After making strides last season, the Waldorf University women’s soccer team is aiming to continue its upward trend during the 2017 campaign.
Alexandria Jackson, who’s in her first year as head coach at Waldorf, is looking to build a program that truly appeals to the best interests of her student-athletes. According to her, the team’s culture should allow players to be successful in life, on the field and in the classroom.
Jackson spent the previous three seasons as Waldorf’s assistant coach. What she lacks in a win-loss record as a head coach, she gains in her defensive acumen. Take last season for example.
The Warriors posted five consecutive shutouts last season en route to a new school record for the longest unbeaten streak. They notched six total shutouts to set a single-season school record and allowed 24 goals, which was the second-fewest goals surrendered and just one more than the school-record mark set in 1999. The season box score made it evident that the Warriors were a juggernaut to score against in the North Star Athletic Association (NSAA) in 2016.
However, the biggest setback for Waldorf last season was a consistent offensive attack, which led to the Warriors being shut out in five out of their last six matches. Jackson wants the offense to improve on last year’s finish, but she also hopes the team continues its defensive intensity on the pitch. Waldorf will continue to focus on sharpening its fundamentals.
“To put it simply, we expect to do better than last year,” Jackson said. “We don’t want to just be better in the wins and losses, but also better in goals scored and against. If we focus on the things we need to do in order to score goals and keep clean sheets, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”
Jackson preaches the “1-0 mantra” philosophy to her players: one day at a time, one practice at a time and one match at a time.
The Warriors begin the regular season on Sunday with a road matchup against Dakota Wesleyan University in a 3 p.m. kickoff at Mitchell, S.D. Dakota Wesleyan had a tough 2016 season, turning in a 2-14-1 record and finishing 10th in the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) with a 2-7-1 mark. Waldorf topped the Tigers 1-0 in last year’s meeting. After starting last season with an 0-12-1 record, Dakota Wesleyan played .500 soccer and went 2-2 the rest of the way. The Warriors know they will need a full-out effort to bring down the Tigers for the second straight year.
“Dakota Wesleyan is always good competition,” Jackson said. “We must be able to compete for a whole 90 minutes and control the game’s tempo for us to be 1-0.”
Waldorf posted a 5-9-2 record last year, went 0-2-2 in conference play to earn the No. 5 seed in the NSAA Tournament and concluded the season in the NSAA Tournament quarterfinals with a hard-fought 1-0 loss to Presentation College.
If the Warriors want to improve upon last season, they’ll rely heavily on senior goalkeeper Hanna DeVries to keep opposing strikers at bay. The Albert Lea, Minn. native comes off an impressive 2016 campaign where she was an NSAA second-team all-conference selection and was named NSAA Defensive Player of the Week for three consecutive weeks. DeVries notched five shutouts last year, which ranks second among Waldorf’s career shutout leaders and is also second among school single-season records, trailing only Kaylee Vitatle’s six-shout performance from 2013. She became the school-record holder for consecutive shutout minutes after holding opposing teams scoreless for 552 minutes, 38 seconds from Aug. 31 to Oct. 26. DeVries posted a 3-3-2 record last season while collecting 66 saves, a .917 save percentage and a 0.67 goals against average (GAA). With 124 career saves, she ranks fourth all-time in Waldorf’s school record books.
Jackson says newcomer Shinell McCalla could be a sleeper pick this year. The junior midfielder, who transferred from Polk State College, played for her national team in St. Kitts. Team chemistry will be big for the Warriors this year, especially if defender Grace Engelman and midfielder Kiarra Houston can play in every contest. Engelman played in every match last year as a sophomore and Houston impressed Waldorf’s coaching staff last season by being a fixture on the pitch as a freshman.
With plenty of familiar faces on the roster, Jackson is excited to see her team go to work. An influx of newcomers is also expected to factor into the team’s success.
“We have returned nearly everyone from last season,” Jackson said. “Our focus in recruiting was to bring in girls that add value to the team.”
Forward Chelsea Delgado, defenders Leah Hester and Deborah Nivyimana return to provide senior leadership, alongside senior forward Kaitlyne Fernandez, who transferred from the University of Central Arkansas.
Defenders Amanda Ferrell, Miahra Treleaven, midfielders Cassidy Pino, Emma Hjerpe and forward Kaitlyn Rockwell are back as sophomores on Waldorf’s roster. Redshirt freshman Jourdan Mata is set to make her debut this season.
Midfielder Celeste Sanchez and forward Amairani Zuniga are sophomores coming to the Warriors from Allan Hancock College. Goalkeeper Brianna Schneidewind and midfielder Larissa Kane join the team as freshmen.
With returning and new talent beginning to mesh, Waldorf is working to ramp up its attack.
“Our offense will need to take time to develop chemistry and knowledge of how each player plays,” Jackson said. “The team and the coaching staff looks forward to that opportunity to learn and grow together.”
Waldorf plays its first home match against William Penn University on Aug. 29 with a 5 p.m. start at Bolstorff Field. The Warriors open NSAA play on Oct. 7, taking on Presentation at Aberdeen, S.D.
Waldorf faces a stacked schedule this year and Jackson acknowledges that it will not be an easy task to surpass the .500 winning percentage mark. The Warriors have two nonconference opponents on their schedule that appear in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) preseason poll, including No. 17 Hastings College and No. 21 Kansas Wesleyan University.
“This is easily one of our toughest schedules we’ve had in a while,” Jackson said. “The returning group, who has gone through plenty of adversity, is ready for the challenge.”