The Augustana University women’s soccer team aims to build on a successful 2016 season with nine starters returning to the roster.
Expectations are high league-wide as the Vikings ranked second in the official NSIC preseason coaches’ poll, receiving five first place votes and predicted to place second in the conference.
“The expectation for us is to win a championship,” said head coach Brandon Barkus.
Barkus, returning for his 12th season as the Vikings’ head coach, expects his experienced squad to improve upon last season when the team went 13-5-3 and advanced to the NSIC Tournament Championship game.
2016’s top goalscorer and senior forward Samantha Tymkowicz returns up front along with 13 other goalscorers from 2016.
Defensively, school-wins record-holder and senior goalie Taylor Machacek anchors a backline featuring four returning starters: seniors Hannah Keirstead and Brooke Bleeker, junior Rebekah Thoresen and sophomore Grace Bender.
Senior Lauren Brownrigg, who received first team All-NSIC and first team NSCAA All-Central Region team honors in 2015, also strengthens the defensive line after spending most of 2016 sidelined by an injury. Ellie Knowles, the 2016 first team All-NSIC member, continues to lead the midfield.
“This group is coming off two of the best seasons in program history. They’re all hungry and they want to win more,” said assistant coach Aric Spader. “The current players want to leave a legacy.”
2015 was a historic season for the Vikings. The team finished with a record of 19-3-1, winning the NSIC Tournament and advancing to the second round of the NCAA tourney with a 2-1 victory over the Harding University Bisons in round one.
With nine seniors and five juniors, the roster is filled with veteran players, although Machacek says everyone in the locker room views each other equally.
“Every year when we add freshman, we have to develop a new chemistry, but we are all working really well together,” said Machacek. “It sounds cheesy, but we are one big family.”
According to coach Barkus, unity in the locker room translates to unity on the field.
“We’re not a team that has one superstar,” said Barkus. “From top to bottom, we’re as strong as ever. Everyone steps up”.
Junior midfielder Rebecca Gasper says strong work ethic and dedication to conditioning are two facets of the team’s identity that sets them apart from the rest.
“The culture of the team is defined by our attitude to work. Coach uses the phrase ‘don’t take a play off,’ ” said Gasper.
“Our team is very skillful, but so are a lot of teams in our conference. Our level of fitness is what really sets us apart at the end of games and allows us to be the better team.”
The Vikings have started the season 1-1-2 in their first four games. The home opener against Wayne State ended in a tie thanks to a 79th minute goal from Tymkowicz.
The only defeat of the season so far was suffered against fifth-ranked Central Missouri, in a 5-0 loss. At the Minot State Classic, the Vikings tied the 17th-ranked Fort Hays State Tigers in a goalless contest, and defeated the Emporia State Hornets in overtime.