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The Eastern Oregon University women’s soccer team will welcome nine new players this year. (Casey Kellas/The Observer)
Despite winning just one game in her first season as head coach of the Eastern Oregon University women’s soccer team, Jennifer Simonetti is confident her program is heading in the right direction entering this season.
Simonetti said the team is already ahead of where they were at this point last season, and the players have only been back on campus for a week.
“Our returning players came back in better shape and our incoming players came in in great shape,” Simonetti said. “They look great (so far). They have already meshed well as a unit. We’re very competitive at most positions on the field. So, practices have been pretty intense.”
The Mountaineers finished last season 1-13-2 overall and 1-6-2 in the Cascade Collegiate Conference. The team scored just 10 goals for the year.
Simonetti said that a lack of depth last season is what plagued the team in the majority of those losses.
“Not only were we out of shape (last season), but we could only bring three or four people off the bench,” Simonetti said. “And with our substitution rules, that really hurt us because we would be in games until the point where we couldn’t bring in any more players off the bench.”
Simonetti made it a point to hit the recruiting trail hard in the offseason and has brought in nine new players this year.
She said that all nine players will have a chance to play for a starting spot this fall.
“We were able to put in a full year into this recruiting class,” Simonetti said. “So, we know the players that we are bringing in and they have blended well. I think our returners also have a better idea of our expectations.”
With the new crop of talent coming in, Simonetti thinks she has turned a weakness from last year into a strength this year.
“We’re going to be able to bring a lot of players off the bench without losing any talent on the field,” the coach said. “That will make our training sessions more competitive and we can train at a higher level. The other (strength) is going to be team chemistry. All of our women get along really, really well.”
The Mountaineers were picked to finish in eighth place in the CCC preseason poll. But EOU does return talent from last year.
Mauriana Gonzalez was an all-CCC second-team selection last season after tallying one goal and five assists.
Danielle Robinson was an all-conference honorable mention selection. Senior goalkeeper Kaily Moss is back after starting 16 games last year and finishing with 55 saves.
Senior Carolyn Danek, who started 14 games a year ago, will suit up once again. Hailey Hill, Erika Whitehurst, Sarah Hunter and Kaeliana De Vera all return after starting double-digit games last season.
Courtney Randall, who led the team with three goals last year, is not back with the team.
But despite all that worked against the Mountaineers last season, Simonetti isn’t shy about what the team’s goals are for this season.
“Everybody has the goal of making it to the conference tournament,” Simonetti said. “That might seem like a lofty goal given our record and standing last year, but the (players) know that fitness had a lot to do with that and our roster in general. Everything is different this year.”
The Mountaineers host Western Wyoming Community College today at 4 p.m. in an exhibition game. That will be the first opportunity for Simonetti to see how her squad competes against another team.
EOU will host Columbia Basin Community College Aug. 24 before starting the regular season with the Mountie Madness Tournament Aug. 31.