Aug. 20, 2008
Last season, the University of Iowa soccer program turned a corner in their rebuilding process under the tutelage of Head Coach Ron Rainey. Iowa finished with a record of 8-8-4 (best mark since 2002) and qualified for the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2001. In 2008, Rainey expects his team to build on the success of last year and take another positive step forward.
"We were excited about the progress we made last year," said Rainey, who is entering his third season at the helm of the Hawkeyes. "We put in a lot of hard work during the spring and with the new players we are bringing in, it is our hope that we will be able to keep moving in the right direction."
The 2008 Hawkeyes are led by a pair of seniors in forward Stephanie Hyink and midfielder Kelsey Shaw. The duo from California has combined for 19 goals and 11 assists in their three seasons in Iowa City. Shaw is currently rehabbing a knee injury suffered last October, and her availability for the start of the season is in question. Nevertheless, Rainey believes the leadership shown from his two seniors will be an important factor for this year's team.
"We obviously want them to have great senior seasons, special seasons," Rainey said. "They will both play great roles on and off the field for us."
And while only two seniors appear on this year's roster, nine incoming freshmen and one junior-college transfer will don the black and gold for the first time. The Hawkeyes may not have much experience on paper, but Rainey thinks otherwise.
"We have a lot of people back that have played collegiate soccer," said Rainey. "It will be essential for those returning players to help the freshmen get acclimated. I am excited to see that leadership happen and we are going to try and make those newcomers comfortable in our system."
Rainey retains his entire coaching staff from a year ago in Eric Golz, Eileen Narcotta and volunteer assistant Stacy Welp. All three are entering their third season as assistants for the Hawkeyes.
With competition predicted to occur at every spot on the field, Rainey acknowledges that in order for the Hawkeyes to progress, they will have to keep doing the same things that got them to this point: an organized defense, maintaining ball control and aggression in the attacking third.
"Those are the things we need to work hard at every day because that is how we can be successful," Rainey said. "We want to keep branding ourselves. We want people to say, `That is how Iowa soccer should be played.'"
The Hawkeyes enter the 2008 season with four goalkeepers, including sophomores Kali Feiereisel and Stephanie Swanson, who both received playing time as true freshmen. Feiereisel took over for Lindsey Boldt midway through the 2007 season and started six conference games while corralling 37 saves. And in her only action of the 2007 season, Swanson shutout Minnesota in the season finale and earned the Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week award for her efforts.
Like last season, Rainey once again suspects a strong competition at the goalkeeper spot this fall.
"It's exciting because we feel that we have a group of goalkeepers that understands it is going to be a competition," Rainey said. "Each and every one of them has to raise their level of play."
Freshman Emily Moran joined the Hawkeyes early this past January and was with the team for spring practice. The native of Kent, OH, was ranked as one of the Top 200 recruits for the 2008 season by SoccerBuzz Magazine, coming in at No. 132. Junior Erica Clausen also returns for Iowa.
In 2007, the defensive back line was a huge strength for the Hawkeyes, but replacements will be sought out this fall after three seniors graduated last May. Sophomores Jenna Aleo and Amanda Heimann saw playing time as freshmen and figure to be starters on defense. With two spots seemingly up for grabs, Rainey recognizes that the defense may be the biggest question mark entering the season.
"It will be something we focus on in the first couple weeks of camp," Rainey said. "Once we get the right configuration of people back there, we will train them up quite a bit."
Newly-converted defender Jackie Kaeding, who spent the last two seasons as a midfielder, but trained this past spring as a defender, could garner playing time as a centerback. Also in the mix for playing time are freshmen Sarah Langlas, Suzy Levett and Gabrielle Tinner.
Junior Katie Smeltzer, who sat out the 2007 season while rehabbing a knee injury, is the wildcard on defense. Rainey noted that Smeltzer's rehab is going well and continues to look better and better, but also said she might not be ready for the start of the season.
While Shaw remains the anchor for the Iowa midfield, the Hawkeyes are looking at a few different players to join her, most notably junior Alexandria Seydel, who could be in line for a breakout season. Seydel has started every game in her two years as a Hawkeye and led Iowa in assists last year with four.
In order to improve the offensive attack, Rainey knows the midfielders will need to be on top of their game all season long.
"We need to keep working on our organization so we can enter the attacking third with numbers to create more scoring opportunities," Rainey said. "We had more scoring chances last year than we did the year before and we have to keep that going in 2008."
Juniors Kathleen Smokowski and Heather Windsor will vie for playing time in the midfield along with freshmen Rachel Blakesley, Kelsey Sandon, and Morgan Showalter, who was named the state of Iowa's Player of the Year as a high school senior.
To create more scoring opportunities for the Iowa offense, the play of the Hawkeye forwards will be crucial. Hyink remains a threat to beat any defense with 11 goals and eight assists during her career. Sophomores Amanda Martin and Keli McLaughlin saw playing time last year and have a good chance to see more of it this season.
"Our forwards need to work together as a unit in order to break defenses down with numbers," Rainey said. "The focus remains on creating as many scoring chances as we can."
Iowa has more players as forwards than at any other position going into the 2008 season. Junior Kim Olsen is transferring from Iowa Western Community College where she was a two-time NSCAA all-America selection and will add experience to the group. Freshmen Allison Bellmer and Alyssa Cosnek will also compete for minutes.
Also returning for the Hawkeyes are juniors Kelsey McCarron and Nicole Slevin, who will provide depth to the position.