Women’s soccer looks for return to national tournament

Story by Lauren Bechard

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After just one week of practice, the Baker University women’s soccer team already has its sights set on one goal for 2013: making it to nationals – again.

The Wildcats are returning from a 13-7-1 season, which landed them in the Sweet 16 round of the NAIA women’s soccer national tournament for the third straight year.

This year may be a little different, though, as the ‘Cats have added 13 new faces to the roster including one transfer student and 12 freshmen. However, junior Shelby Schiraldi is confident the newcomers will adapt to the pace of Baker soccer with ease.

“We have more athletic girls and a lot more depth on the team this year,” Schiraldi said. “The chemistry is going to be different, but the new girls are adjusting really well, communicating and starting to understand how we play.”

Despite its past success, other teams in the Heart of America Athletic Conference seem to think this season will go a bit differently for Baker.

Shortly before their report date on Aug. 10, the Wildcats learned they are third in the HAAC preseason rankings. The news came as quite a surprise to head coach Nate Houser.

“I think it’s a little bit of slap considering how well we did last year,” Houser said. “But if we deserve to be anywhere we will win our games and prove it out.”

Houser is pleased with the leadership he sees in the returners, including “vocal leader” Schiraldi, who concluded 2012 as a third-team NAIA All-American and National Soccer Coaches Association of America third-team All-American.

Baker will also return All-HAAC honorees junior forward Alexa Fryer, junior defender Lesley Johnson and junior goalkeeper Rachel Theobald.

“The expectation is for us to be able to finish games this year,” Houser said. “We are changing up a little bit, but I think with the ladies we have returning and ones we have coming in, we will still be able to cause problems for our opponents.”

Baker will hit the road to Clinton, Iowa, to start the season at nationally ranked Ashford University on Saturday. The team will return to Baldwin City on Sunday for a home-opener against AIB School of Business at North Park. Both game times are scheduled for noon.