ISU soccer looks to defend title
POCATELLO — The last time the Idaho State soccer team was on the pitch at Davis Field they were celebrating a Big Sky Conference Championship.
During that weekend in November freshman goalie Sheridan Hapsic, helped propel the Bengals to the title after coming up with two huge saves during shoot out wins over Weber State in the semifinals and Montana in the finals.
Hapsic earned the tournament MVP award for her stellar performance as the Bengals moved on to the NCAA College Cup to take on top seeded Stanford.
The Bengals lost that game 3-0 to the Cardinal ending the season.
Wednesday the Bengals opened up practice for the 2013 with plenty of new faces making their first appearance in the orange and black.
"I can't believe how fast this came," ISU head coach Allison Gibson said. "I know time actually goes the same speed every year, but this year it just seemed extremely fast and it feels like we were just out here."
"I take that as a good thing and it is just that much excitement around the team and the program," Gibson said. "Our goal is to pick up where we left off and not to drop off or rebuild different things, but to enhance what we have already done well."
That should not be hard to do as the team returns all but three starters from a year ago including Big Sky co-offensive MVP Amanda Ellsworth and most of the starting back line defenders.
Where the Bengals will have to make up the biggest loss is on offense where 10 goal scorer Rachel Strawn and midfielder Anna Pingree have graduated.
The 14 goals scored by the duo accounted for almost half of the goals scored by the Bengals last season.
The early part of fall camp the team will be working on finding ways to replace those goals.
"Anyone can step up, and I think that a key point for our team and our season is to find out who will actually step for us," Ellsworth said. "It could be Laura Benson or Ka'imi Morreira, they are both returners or it could be one of the freshman like Jessica Sanchez who is coming in and could be newcomer of the year."
The next few weeks and three exhibition games will be instrumental in deciding who will help Ellsworth with the scoring load.
"I think it will definitely be a challenge to replace those three big players from last season," Gibson said. "After the morning session it was apparent that the seniors left big holes and we have some key freshman who are already stepping up and filling key places. But those holes will be tough to fill. I told the team that's my job to find players to fill holes, you come to practice open minded and I will do the rest."
One luxury that Gibson does have is three experienced goalkeepers.
Not only doses Hapsic return, but redshirt junior Carly Hutchings-Maloney return to the mix after missing last year with an injury. Throw in sophomore Maria Dela Cruz who spent part of her summer playing with the Philipines national team and the Bengals have a three-headed monster in the net.
"I had a meeting with the goalies this morning and what I told them was I am looking for the one of you has the best chemistry with the back line, the one of you that can make the big saves at critical times and the one of you can do the most preventative work," Gibson said. "I made it clear that I want them to own the back line and make to where they are not having to make key saves. I put a lot of the shots that get played on the keepers because they have 100% control of that back line in front of them and the back line knows that."
With a limited amount of unknowns going into the season the Bengals are greatly aware of one thing, they will play with a target on their backs all season long.
Earlier in the day Wednesday the Big Sky Conference released its preseason soccer poll and to no real surprise the Bengals along with Portland State will voted as the favorites to win the league.
"I told the girls that the one thing you can take from the poll is that you finally got the respect you deserve," Gibson said. "Every year no matter how well we do the year before we are at the bottom of the polls, no we have to go out and live up to it again."
ISU was picked to finish seventh in the 2012 preseason poll, they went on to share the regular season title and host the conference tournament vis a tiebreaker.
This season the team will also loofa to bring the Governors Cup back to Pocatello. The annual battle with the University of Idaho and Boise State will take place at Davis Field Aug. 23-25.
But before any of that gets going the Bengals will play what they consider three exhibition games beginning with Saturday's Alumni Game.
"We are looking at these games as three exhibitions and it will give us a chance to go up against someone else for the first time," Gibson said. "It will give our new players some game experience and the rest of the team the opportunity to work on formations and our defensive alignments.
The Alumni Game is Saturday at 1 p.m. at Davis Field in Pocatello.