A majority of the Tabor College women?s soccer team returns this year for coach Ian Thom?son?s second season as head coach.
Tabor went 11-5-3 last year and 5-3-1 in the KCAC to finish fifth. Thomson said it is good to have that first year behind him.
?Coming into my second year, I?m excited, a little bit more relaxed,? he said. ?I know what to expect. I kind of know the system and how the conference works.?
It was a year characterized by injuries, forcing young players to contribute minutes and thus gain valuable experience.
?We?re returning a lot of kids with a lot of experience because of what happened last year with injuries,? Thomson said. ?We?re deeper than we were last year just because of that experience and because of the freshmen coming in. It?s going to be a fun year.?
The Bluejays will need to replace four-year starting forward Jessica Renzelman, a first-team selection last season. Renzelman was Tabor?s leader in goals scored with nine (0.5 per game). She also led the team in shots with 66 (3.67 per game) and shots on goal with 41. She averaged 2.28 shots on goal per game, ranking 44th in NAIA Division I.
Tabor also loses defender Anna Friesen, who received honorable mention honors last year; and goalkeeper Kalee Cross, who ranked 22nd in saves (129) and 31st in saves per game (6.79).
Seven starters return for the Bluejays.
Heading that list are sophomore defender Jordan Walters, a second-team All-KCAC pick a year ago; and senior midfielder Ashtyn Stephens, who received honorable mention last year. Stephens ranked 50th in NAIA Division I in assists (eight).
Senior forward Nicole Stevenson is another key returner, having competed in 13 games last year and scoring five goals. She, as well as some younger players, will help fill Renzel?man?s void.
?Hopefully, (Nicole?s) going to be healthy this year,? Thomson said. ?When she was healthy, she was an all-conference player.?
Kaitlyn Wells, a junior midfielder, is another player that Thomson expects good things from this year. Wells played in just five games before succumbing to injury.
?She tore her ACL toward the beginning of the year,? Thomson said. ?She was on pace to have a really good year, so we?re hoping that she can bounce back as well.?
Additional returners include junior midfielder Lillian Bear and sophomore defender Codi Metcalf.
?We had great years across the board for a lot of our girls,? Thomson said.
Because of injuries, a majority of the team saw time on the field last year, he said, meaning most everyone returns with some level of experience.
Thomson has added 12 freshmen to the roster, and he said all will find ways to have an impact.
Three freshmen have particularly notable resumes.
Those include Hayley Stoval, a midfielder out of Hebron (Texas) High School, who comes from a large 6A state championship team; forward Keeley Braun from Raymore-Peculiar (Mo.) High School who played for a large club in the Kansas City area; and Ruby-Anne Fines from Halifax West High School (Nova Scotia) who also brings club-team experience at goalkeeper.
Thomson said his entire freshman class is strong.
?All of the freshmen have really surprised me with how fast they?ve adapted to the game and they?re really starting to impact,? he said. ?It?s always different in practice than games, but it?s a good class.?
Tabor was picked to finish fifth in the KCAC preseason poll behind Ottawa, Kansas Wesleyan, Oklahoma Wesleyan and Sterling.
?I have to say that?s a fair assessment,? Thomson said. ?Fifth is right there in the middle. I think it shows the respect that we have.?
Thomson said he expects his team to be competitive with even the top conference teams.
?We have a midfield and we?ve gotten in players that have gotten experience and now we can compete at that level,? he said. ?It?s just can we go out and execute and do what we need to do. Having the players in place is one thing, but getting them to be able to do it and be successful against those teams who are consistently that good, that?s a whole other thing.?
For Thomson and the Bluejays, the season holds both potential and promise.
?There?s a lot of potential right there, and if we can come out and play how we need to play, I think we really have a chance to be one of those top teams in the conference,? he said. ?I don?t say that lightly, but I think that the talent is there. If we can gel and develop quickly, we?ll be somebody to look out for.?