Photos by Brooke Kinney
After a disappointing loss to Winona State on Wednesday, Augustana senior Maren Werth took off her soccer cleats for the last time as an Augustana Viking.
Werth, a 5’9” center forward on the women’s soccer team, helped the Vikings get to the post-season with a 10-8-1 record, with a strong 6-1 home record, one of the best in team history.
Werth started all 19 games and led the team with 76 shots, scoring 13 goals this season. She finished her career as the third highest goal scorer for Augustana with 21 career goals, along with becoming only the third player in team history with 50 career points, 28 from this season alone.
Improving on 2012’s record of 6-10-2, Werth said this season has been different from the beginning.
“I think our philosophy has changed a little bit, letting teams play our style instead of us catering to them,” Werth said. “We worked on keying in to people’s strengths and weaknesses.”
With 13 goals this season, it is evident scoring is one of Werth’s strengths.
“She can find the back of the net against even the toughest teams,” senior defender Liz Bunkers said. “She is a force to be reckoned with.”
Junior defender Emily Hanneman said Werth’s “killer shot” is nearly impossible to be saved even by their head coach, Brandon Barkus.
Barkus, however, said Werth’s advantage is her power.
“She is a physical player and is excellent at keeping the ball higher on the field,” he said. “Plus, she is technical and can strike a ball harder than anyone in the conference.”
As a freshman, Werth played outside forward, the same position she played at Thomas Jefferson High School in Bloomington, Minn. Werth switched to a midfielder as a sophomore, and filled the position of center back and center mid her junior year.
“A lot of times I’ve filled holes in different places,” Werth said, describing herself as a ‘utility player.’
“If I was a goalkeeper then that would really complete the position train,” Werth said.
Being a utility player has helped Werth have an overall awareness of the field, an aspect her teammates deem as her top strength.
“She has a very high ‘soccer IQ,’” senior midfielder Kara Bartels said. “She has the ability to read the game and know where she should be moving.”
“Absolutely playing multiple positions has helped her to be a stronger, more versatile player, no question,” he said.
As a center forward, Werth said her purpose is to possess the ball while moving it up the field in order to give time for her teammates to get repositioned.
“I think center forward is best suited to my playing style,” Werth said. “I get to shoot, I get to pass, I get to win balls in the air.”
Eight years ago, Werth played for Barkus on a club team for a few months before Barkus accepted the head coach position at Augustana in 2006. Werth said his light-hearted attitude and approach to the game were reasons she was excited to have him as a coach again.
Originally, Werth was planning on attending college in California, saying South Dakota didn’t sound like a fun place to go, but her connection to Barkus brought her to Sioux Falls for a college visit.
“I think [my mom, sister and I] spent five or six hours on campus, and I didn’t want to leave,” Werth said. Division II soccer, Barkus as the head coach and Augustana’s harp music program were the three deciding factors to change Werth’s opinion of South Dakota.
Being closer to home has proved to be another positive factor for Werth, as her family and friends are able to attend more games. Werth, the middle of three, began playing soccer at five years old because of her brother.
“He was my inspiration to play,” Werth said. “He fell in love with soccer, so then it became that I wanted to do what he did, and my sister wanted to do whatever I did. We ended up being a soccer family.”
Werth said she’s thankful for the support of her parents over the years. Growing up, most of their time was spent at practice, games or tournaments.
“It’s always nice to have training buddies,” she said. “We had a few soccer goals in the back yard. Destroyed them all.”
Having different training partners has proved to be valuable for skill development and experience for Werth. This past summer, Werth participated in captain’s practices with the University of Minnesota women’s soccer team.
“That was a cool experience getting to play and train with some D-I athletes,” Werth said.
Lead by Example
Barkus said Werth’s strengths off the field are her “positive attitude and overall amazing work ethic,” a statement her teammates agree with.
“She is someone who can put her head down and work,” Bunkers said. “Her attitude to get the job done, to put the ball in the net, is one of her strongest traits as a leader, because her attitude is contagious.”
As a lead-by-example player, Bartels said it’s evident Werth goes into every practice and game ready to work hard for the team.
“As a teammate, I know when we step on the field together, whether it is practice or a game, she is going to push me to be a better player and demand more from me,” Bartels said.
Hanneman said the dynamic of the team this year “is a ‘we’re going to fight and get after it’ attitude;” an attitude similar to Werth’s style on the field.
“She encourages and expects a lot from her teammates,” Hanneman said, saying Werth is one of the hardest working athletes on the team, a trait the team looks up to.
Werth said going into the last few regular season games that the team’s focus was to go back to the things that have worked well this year and not try to overcomplicate things.
“Making sure everyone gives their full heart for every single game, and every tackle, and every shot because we can be unbelievable when we’re like that,” Werth said.
Graduate from Soccer
Augustana was seeded No. 7 going into the post-season, ranked to compete against No. 2 Winona State (15-2-2) on Wednesday, Nov. 6 at Winona. Senior Aleisha Oehlerking scored Augustana’s only goal during the game, with the Warriors winning 5-1. Werth had a game-leading six shots in the match, but wasn’t able to hit the ball in.
Werth and senior Katie Hurd earned All-NSIC First Team Honors for the season, and Bartels was named to the Honorable Mention Team. Werth and Hurd’s nomination marks the first time in Augustana history the women’s soccer team has had two first team players selected in the same season.
After 16 years of practices, workouts, games and tournaments, Werth said she doesn’t know what she will do in her free time.
“We’ve graduated from soccer,” she said. “I guess I don’t know what life is without soccer.”
Werth said she’ll probably spend more time sleeping, grateful she won’t have to wake up for early morning practices this winter, saying she’s not fond of running at 6 a.m.
“But I guess being a sappy senior, I’ll look back and wish I could have four more years of that,” Werth said. “You would take back even the hardest moments just because you don’t want it to be over.”