Coming off a one-win season, Idaho State women’s head soccer coach Allison Gibson found out that Maria Sanchez, a member of Mexico’s U-20 national team and the Big Sky’s leading goal scorer from the previous season, would not be returning to the team, despite remaining eligibility.
The lone win was a 1-0 overtime victory against Westminster College, a Division II school in the Rocky Mountain Athletics Conference.
Without their top goal scorer, and a young cast of players, the Bengals were picked to finish dead last in the preseason polls. So, that begs the question, in Gibson’s twenty seasons of coaching, how is this her favorite team?
With the staggering low expectations of the upcoming season and all the outside noise from Sanchez’s departure, Gibson’s team had to find a way to ignore it all.
“You just win,” said sophomore Nikolina Musto said.
ISU is currently 4-3 in conference play and sits in fourth place. With three games left in conference play, every game is crucial if the Bengals are to make the Big Sky Conference Tournament. To do so, they must be in the top six.
Gibson has coached a tournament championship team and has won three Big Sky Coach of the Year awards; yet, she claims this team is her favorite.
“You know what I love about this team?” Gibson asked. “Every time I look up, there is a different group of two or three together. It is never the same group.”
It may help that despite Sanchez’s departure, ISU has scored as many goals this season as they did the entire 2015 season (24).
A big part of that turnaround is Musto, who has buried six goals this season, good for second on the team and fourth in the conference.
“This year, I decided that somebody has got to put the ball away,” Musto said. “So I stepped up into the role.”
Last year, the object was get the ball to Sanchez, let her do her thing and hope she scores, this season’s addition has a far more balanced attack.
“I knew from being in the game too long that a balanced attack is always better than a single-attack,” Gibson said. “I knew my hands were going to be full with convincing them that their part could be bigger.”
The players answered the bell.
Freshman Michaela Didericksen leads the team in goals with seven, sophomore Cassidy Kaumeyer and junior Jennifer McCaw have sealed the backline defensively and goalkeeper Shawna Hennings has stepped into a role that Gibson says was over her head last season.
“Our goalkeeper staff just wasn’t as strong as it needed to be,” Gibson said. “In another team, those are just saves. The goalkeeper would catch the ball and distribute it out to the backs. For us, it was going in the back of the net.”
Hennings was one of three goalkeepers that were rotated in and out of play last season. She shared the role with then senior, Sheridan Hapsic and freshman Esmeralda Nunez.
Last season, the Bengals found themselves down early, typically within the first ten minutes, and were forced to play catch-up for the remaining 80 minutes of the game.
“It was awful,” Gibson said.
This year is different.
“This year, [Hennings] is way farther down the road and much more that player for us,” Gibson said.
Winning the game ten minutes at a time has been the theme for the season. Gibson will run ten minute drills in practice where she places ten minutes on the clock and scrimmages. The term has been coined, “win the ten,” and is based off of last season’s early deficits where the team often found itself trailing ten minutes into the game.
“There are so many significant ten minute marks in the game,” Gibson said. “Don’t make it a 90-minute game, make it a ten-minute game.”
The team has come together not only on the field but off as well. What once was a losing team with countless different cliques is now a team that has rediscovered its winning ways and with it, a sense of family.
“It was really cliquey last year, so you don’t have full team chemistry” Kaumeyer said. “This year, everybody is all together and we have fun.”
Part of being a family is being there for one another. That is exactly what the team did when freshmen Jazmin Lopez underwent surgery. When Lopez awoke, her teammates were waiting.
“We all friends on and off the field,” Kaumeyer said. “That incorporates to success on the field.”
“Because it is family.” Musto added. “If that was us, we would want the same thing, you know?”
To go along with this almost 180 degree turn, Gibson will have most of these players for the coming seasons.
With twenty players in their freshman and sophomore seasons and just two seniors, Gibson is excited for the future of ISU soccer.
“We are not at the top of the conference, which is not where we want to be,” Kaumeyer said. “We can’t relax, we have not secured our position in the tournament, which means we still have a lot of work to do.”
But with the youth of this team, Gibson says they are close.
“2017-2018, I think we are really going to be a force to be reckoned with,” Gibson said. “I think it is safe to say, we will be the team to beat in the Big Sky.”