Youth movement to drive Spires

The University of Saint Mary women’s soccer team struggled offensively a year ago as they finished 5-10-1 overall and 4-7 in Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) play.

Two late losses pushed the Spires out of a KCAC playoff spot and sent sixth-year head coach Justin Seever back to the drawing board.

The first priority was finding a way to get the ball into the back of the onion bag as the Spires scored only eight times all season.

The team will be a completely different as Seever brought in a bounty of freshmen who will be the near majority of the team.

“New blood, a new day,” Seever said. “Part of it was I had so much faith in (the older players) and I cared about them so much that I didn’t really work to out-recruit them (in previous years), and when I didn’t have them, I had to out-recruit them. Every one of these girls we brought in is either a midfielder or an attacker. We wanted to shore up our weakness that we had last year: goals. We brought in a lot of talent up front.

“If these nine girls stick it out for four years, how good can they be? The potential is high. We are excited.”

The hope is the attitude will stay positive and progressive.

“Last year had a disappointing ending. We were only one game out (of a playoff spot), but I think the attitude has changed this fall season,” sophomore defender Molly Devine said. “All the girls are here and have been working hard and showing 100 percent effort, so we hope to keep that up. The attitude is everything and everyone is positive this year. We got rid of a lot of negative mindsets and we are going in expecting to win every game this year.

“In the summer, everyone worked hard and did the workouts. Both those things will have a major impact.”

Senior midfielder Erica Hornbuckle feels the scoring failures stem from a lack of focus in preparation that kept the team’s feet from striking true more often.

“I feel like as a team, we lacked a lot of discipline … it starts up front and how we practiced was how we played,” Hornbuckle said. “We didn’t come ready to play. It’s a work ethic. It’s the hard work and discipline. (A negative approach) translates into the way you play.”

Seever felt the scoring issues stemmed from other factors as well.

“We’ve seen better finishing in the first two weeks of practice,” Seever said. “I don’’t know if it’s work ethic, I just think we have talent that is eager to score and scored goals in high school. Goal scoring is all mental. We haven’t dove into yet, which is working on your technique in the final third of the field. We are trying to work on some pressure situations.

“The competition will help too - girls see four new freshmen that can put the ball into the back of the net. It’s been nice. We are a little low on numbers with 19 right now, which is a fine number for me. 

The team has been infused by youth, including Lansing High’s Sadie Brown.

“Having killer instinct, our team can go way farther than last year and the years before,” Hornbuckle said. “(We have) new freshmen girls who are eager, want to play and have skill and who are ready to challenge the upperclassmen. 

“Maybe some people would argue having a new group of girls is dangerous because of rookie mistakes, but I think it will be a positive for us. The yearning to play, their youth and energy, I think we will make it farther than ever.”

The Spires were predicted to finish eighth in the KCAC, good enough to make the playoffs, which is something Seever sees as a need for the program.

“Being one game out last year, it was probably the most frustrating offseason when you send 10 seniors off to graduation, eight of which were here as freshmen,” Seever said. “(Playoffs) are the goal and we were picked eighth. Next year the leagues moves to 13 teams so you have to take that step forward, because we are all basically recruiting the same kids. For the mental aspect of the girls and to appease my bosses, we have to strive to do a little bit better in conference. But going from one win to four wins in conference last year and if we can get to six or seven...soccer is a crazy, crazy sport.”