Last year the ISU women’s soccer team was voted to finish seventh in the Big Sky Conference in the preseason polls and proved everybody wrong when they won the Big Sky Championship. This year the team tied for the top spot and will have to prove everybody right.
There is a stigma that comes with winning a championship. Expectations are raised accompanied with a bulls-eye immediately placed on every black and orange Bengal jersey worn by a soccer player.
The Bengals are bringing back seven starters to defend the title. Leading the veteran group will be the Big Sky co-Offensive MVP, Amanda Ellsworth, and Sheridan Hapsic, last year’s Big Sky Tournament MVP. The lineup also includes All-Big Sky second team-member, senior Allyson Stainbrook and honorable mention All-Big Sky honorees Vanessa Cabilan and Taylor McBride.
Despite bringing back a decorated lineup ISU’s reigning Big Sky Coach of the Year Allison Gibson will have to rely on some fresh faces to help replace the departed seniors.
The Bengals lost Rachel Strawn, Anna Pingree, Katie Flynn, Alishia Cairl and Morgan Olsen. Filling in for the departed seniors will be Zaessia Madamba, Tori Burgin, Jessica Sanchez, Brooke Tryon, Shelby Hilton, Katherine Roberts and Boise State transfer Whitney Peterson.
Hapsic is returning for a sophomore campaign after an awe-inspiring freshman season that garnered her the Big Sky Tournament MVP. While it’s hard to imagine Hapsic improving from how we finished, it’s possible Hapsic could be even better this year.
She spent the summer in Bend, Ore., playing for a Women’s Premier Soccer League team. She spent six weeks playing against other semi-pro teams. That experience kept Hapsic in game-ready shape and should prevent the dreaded sophomore slump.
“Basically it was almost like a soccer season over the summer,” said Hapsic.
If something happens to Hapsic then Gibson would be more than comfortable relying on both of her back up goalies, Maria Dela Cruz or Carly Hutchings-Maloney to step up.
Mikaela Carrillo,Tara Bice, Zaessia Madamba, Shelby Hilton and Lia Margolis
The Bengals’ biggest strength this year is going to be on the experience of their backline. Every one of the players starting on the backline thus far has started at least once for the Bengals last year. I’m going to avoid saying using the old adage “Defense wins championships” but this team isn’t going to win a lot of games by just outscoring their opponents; they are going to win because of their defense.
In the preseason and two regular season games played thus far Allyson Stainbrook has been rock solid for the Bengals. She has anchored that backline and will look to cap off a fantastic career at ISU.
“Our two Idaho kids have really been finding their way quickly to the top and that’s Whitney Peterson, Boise State transfer and Katherine Roberts of Pocatello,” said Gibson.
Last year Ellsworth and former Bengal Strawn led the Bengals and accounted for 59 percent of the team’s goals. Strawn finished the season with 10 goals and Ellsworth finished with 9 goals. Now that Strawn is gone somebody is going to have to step up and replace her goals.