Defense key for BU soccer women
When Baker head womens soccer coach Nate Houser went after his first recruiting class, he focused on defense, defense and defense.
Now his players will get a chance to see what the Baker coach, who sparked a remarkable turnaround in his first year, can do for an encore when he gets to style his own team.
"What happened last year gave us so much confidence," junior midfielder Kristin Bock of Lawrence said. "We always had talent and ability, but Nate pulled it together."
Houser was handed a program suffering from graduation losses and players who were not expected to be in peak fitness. With an abbreviated recruiting season, Houser was only able to sign one player. Despite the obstacles, the 2003 Wildcats came together in October and qualified for the NAIA Region V tournament for the first time in the program's history.
"That was awesome," junior striker Britt Strick of Prairie Village said of making the playoffs in Houser's first year. "Nate set that goal for us at the beginning of the year and none of us thought we could do it."
The strength of last year's team was defense, but the Cats lost their only goalkeeper and three players ranging from midfielder to defender. Houser responded by signing five midfielders, three goalkeepers and two defenders, with no forwards.
"Our recruiting class is very good," Houser said. "We brought in three goalkeepers who really improved our defense and will allow us to play further up the field."
A significant challenge for Houser last season was getting the women to a higher level of fitness so they could play a more aggressive brand of soccer. The changes helped propel Strick to first-team All-Heart of America Athletic Conference as a sophomore. She is Baker's most heralded returning player and an All-American candidate.
"We're getting Britt into proper soccer shape," Houser said. "She spent most of her freshman year watching, but she came around in the middle of last year and put in a lot of work in the spring and summer."
Strick is expected to be a team leader, as will vocal midfielder Alex Williams, a junior from Olathe. Houser said midfielder Shannon Moore, a senior from Bartlesville, Okla., will be a significant leader by example.
One challenge for the team will be replacing talented forward Eugenia Rogers, who will attend Baker's School of Nursing this fall. When Baker hit a hot streak in October, Rogers was the hottest with 10 goals in four games. The task of scoring will fall onto Williams and senior forward Amy Freedman of Overland Park. Williams was sidelined by mononucleosis and other ailments last season.
"I could see Alex being our next leading goal scorer," Strick said. "She's totally pumped about this year."
Houser expects his team to make the regional playoffs again and has beefed up Baker's schedule to help. The Wildcats will renew a traditional rivalry with Ottawa University and Houser planned a trip to California to play NAIA powers Westmont College and The Master's College. Those games come early in Baker's schedule and Houser said it is important that the Cats make it through the first few games with the right attitude.
"We're jumping into the deep end," Houser said. "This year will show us where we are and where we need to be."