ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Is the Tabor women’s soccer team as good as it appears to be, or will the clock strike midnight on a Cinderella story that saw the Bluejays vault from the near-bottom of the KCAC in 1998 to second place last fall?
Coach Don Brubacher, never one to hype the prospects of any of his teams, will at least admit that this year’s talent pool is even deeper than last year’s.
“It is true that with the players coming into the program this year, and those we have returning, we are a better skilled and more experienced team than we were a year ago,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean we will be as good a team as we were a year ago.”
He said winning will take more than talent.
“One of the reasons the team played as well last year as it did is that I felt they were extraordinarily well-focused on learning the game and playing the game in a way that would make them successful,” he said.
“All the years I’ve been around athletics, I’m not sure I’ve ever coached a team that was any better focused than the group was last year.”
But even Brubacher admits that preseason practices indicate his team is ready to go for the brass ring.
“As a group, I’m pleased with the way those returners have come in and already contributed,” he said.
By “those returners,” he means the six players who received All-KCAC honors last season.
Heading that list is Chrissy Previtera, a sophomore forward from Wichita who was named first team all-conference, plus all-region and All-American in her first year of college competition. She led the KCAC in points (43) and was second in assists (9) and goals scored (17).
How can she top that this year?
“That is something that can be difficult for a young player who has received the level of awards that Chrissy did last year,” Brubacher said.
“But I can tell you her game is markedly better now than it was a year ago.
“In the game of soccer, that does not mean it will result in more goals,” he added. “She will draw an extraordinary amount of attention this year from opposing defenses.”
Previtera will be aided by two teammates who joined her on the KCAC first-team: Sarah Dougherty, a senior midfielder from Hillsboro, and Becca Toews, a sophomore midfielder from Houston, Texas.
Derby sophomore Christy Wehrman, who allowed only 0.75 goals per game last year, returns as a second-team pick at goal keeper and sophomore Melanie Kurtz, from Fort Collins, Colo., and senior Dolly Regier, from Hillsboro, were honorable mention picks at forward.
Kurtz scored eight goals last season before injuring her knee during the fifth game of season.
Add to that group Laura Phillips, a senior defender from Wichita.
“She did not receive all-conference honors a year ago, but certainly deserved them,” Brubacher said. “She has also come back this year with a stronger game.”
If that isn’t enough to unsettle the competition, Brubacher has brought in four new players who can play at, or close to, the same level.
Xochitl Clark transferred from McPherson Central College, where she played in 1998. She sat out last season and comes to Tabor as sophomore.
“She is experienced, well-skilled, a very good athlete,” Brubacher said.
Three freshmen recruits are living up to their billing, too.
Kathleen Stagg, from Houston, Katie Whitcomb, from Ann Arbor, Mich., and Katie Scrivens, from Wichita Northwest High, all merit an “excellent” assessment from their new coach.
The talent pool is deep, indeed.
“The key for us will be to stay healthy,” Brubacher said. “We are still not terribly deep as a team.”
The Bluejays were picked for third place by the coaches in a preseason poll. Brubacher feels that is a reasonable expectation, given the talent level his team enjoys.
“But it could be a great challenge for us to hold that, much less to better it,” he added.
However, they finish, Brubacher has a word for local sports fans of all types.
“I think people will be surprised at the level of athleticism, the level of skill, and just the overall entertainment value of watching these women play,” he said. “I know I enjoyed having a good seat to watch them last year.”