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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Bright future for national champions

By Samuel Biehn

 

It may be their first year on the defending national champion Western Women’s Soccer team, but 2017’s group of freshman have been up to the challenge.

“We have a great group that came in,” Vikings head coach Travis Connell said. “They are all excited and eager to take that challenge head-on, as far as learning and all the newness.”

Eight freshman are currently on the roster for Western, but even with a solid presence of upperclassmen the younger players have been finding opportunities to perform during the team’s 10-0 start.

Freshmen Grace Eversaul and Darby Doyle Contest for the ball. // Photo by Katie Webber

“We had kids that played right away,” Connell said. “And now other kids are working their way into more minutes now that they’re more comfortable, and they have a better understanding of what their roles are.”

Connell said one of the freshman players making a mark is midfielder Grace Eversaul, who has started nearly every game for the Vikings.

Eversaul said being a part of a successful Western program so far has taught her that she can’t back down at any point on the field.

“This team definitely teaches that,” Eversaul said. “Every practice, every training means everything and it applies to the field.”

Eversaul has found a way to apply that mentality to her game, scoring four goals for the Vikings so far this season.

“Every time I go out there I give it my all,” Eversaul said. “I’m aggressive.”

With the Vikings winning the NCAA Division II national title last season, freshman midfielder Alice Hiebert said there is some pressure coming in.

“It’s humbling,” Hiebert said. “It puts you in your place a bit more. But it gives me players to look up to that are playing the position I play.”

Hiebert said she’s impressed with how many players in her freshman class have capitalized on scoring opportunities and playing time.

Forwards Talia Daigle and Sophie Butterfield  have a scored a combined five goals this season for the Vikings.

“Stats-wise [the freshman class has] gotten on the board quite a bit, which is pretty cool,” Hiebert said.

Even with the freshman being new to the Vikings team, Connell said they never doubted that they could play a role in the success of the team.

“There’s a number of them that have been forced into early action,” Connell said. “Even starting, and they’re taking those things in stride.”

With the pressure of integrating into a big name program, Connell said he’s impressed with the freshman players’ ability to respond to the challenge.

“It’s daunting to come into a program like this,” Connell said. “That’s something I’ve noticed,  how ready they are.”

It may be daunting, but being the defending national champion with a 10-0 start means the Vikings know they are going to have a target on their back against every team, Hiebert said.

She said although the pressure makes the players nervous, it also is a sign of respect and makes the win more rewarding for the Vikings.

Eversaul said the tough effort from every opponent makes her more focused, and requires her to keep her mind in the game the entire time.

With all the team’s success so far, Connell said he’s looking forward to seeing how his freshmen continue to improve on the field.

“There’s a point where you stop worrying about proving yourself and you just play the game,” Connell said. “That’s a big breakthrough for kids when they’re 100 percent locked into helping the team win and less worried about making a mistake.”

With the success of the Vikings and their freshmen, so far, the team will have to wait and see whether it pays off in another championship run.

10-0 isn’t a bad place to start.

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