EWU soccer: a Big Sky preview

Eagles still finding their groove, after graduating ten seniors

Goalkeeper+Kelsee+Winston+hits+a+goal+kick+against+South+Dakota+State.+The+keeper+has+four+clean+sheets+this+season.

Mckenzie Ford

Goalkeeper Kelsee Winston hits a goal kick against South Dakota State. The keeper has four clean sheets this season.

By Jeremy Burnham, Managing Editor

Nine games into the 2018 season, the EWU soccer team is feeling the loss of all-time leading scorer Chloe Williams, who graduated after last season.

The Eagles finished the nonconference portion of their schedule with a 0-0 home draw against South Dakota State on Sunday and a 4-3-2 record. This was the fourth time this season the Eagles were held without scoring.

Heading into its home opener on Friday, EWU is averaging 0.89 goals per game, despite leading the conference in shots with 143 (15.88 a match). Last year’s squad averaged 2.10 goals per match on 17.3 shots per match.

“I think we’re rushing things,” EWU head coach Chad Bodnar said after Sunday’s draw. “I think we’re trying to hit these long shots from 30, 40 yards out when we could make an extra pass and get a better look. But I think that stuff is going to come, and hopefully it’s at the right time.”

This trend has followed the Eagles all season. They needed extra time to beat CSU Bakersfield 1-0 on August 17, despite outshooting the Roadrunners 26-3. Shot selection was a problem, with only four shots on goal.

The golden goal in that match was a corner kick hooked in by sophomore forward Emma Vanderhyden. This is the only time the Eagles have scored off a corner kick this season, despite leading the Big Sky Conference in attempts with 67.

After her extra time winner, Vanderhyden said hooking in corner kicks is something she has been working on.

“I actually had one against UW, so after that I got some confidence in it,” Vanderhyden said. “I was like, ‘man I should practice these more, I can do this several times.’ Every time, I actually aim for that, and I always have trust that someone will be in the back post anyway.”

On August 24, the Eagles outshot South Dakota 24-6, but that game ended in a 1-1 draw.

After getting shut out only four times last season, the Eagles have already matched that total this year. Three of the shutouts account for all of EWU’s losses.

Despite the struggle to score, the Eagles are holding on to a winning record, due in no small part to strong play from the defenders.

“A lot of clean sheets,” Bodnar said. “You have to take positives out of that especially with all the young people we have on the backline. We’ve played Jenny [Chavez] in the backline in the last three games and then today Grace [Klinkenberg] stepped back in and did a great job for us. I think there’s depth in the backline even though its young. They’ve done a good job.”

The backline has been productive all season. They are fast to jump inside passing lanes, they disrupt shots before they are taken and they deflect the ones that are. And along with the midfielders, they cause a lot of turnovers just inside their own half.

Also impressive this season has been the play of sophomore goalkeeper Kelsee Winston. In eight starts, Winston has four shutouts and has a goals-against-average of 0.58.

Winston had five saves in Sunday’s 0-0 draw, and was named the BSC defensive player of the week for her efforts.

“She’s been big,” Bodnar said. “She’s come up with big saves when she’s had to, and has been consistent the rest of the time. So she’s been good, but it’s also been the four in front of her getting blocks and doing things well for her too. Overall, that’s a bright spot for us.”

This is Bodnar’s fifth year as  EWU’s head coach. When he was hired, Williams was an incoming freshman. That first freshman class played a big part in Bodnar’s first four seasons, including back-to-back BSC championships in 2016 and 2017. Now, Bodnar is in his first season without that class, as the team saw 10 seniors graduate after last season.

This means a lot of playing time for inexperienced players, and Bodnar thinks the team will get better as they continue to play with each other.

“We’re kind of resetting,” Bodnar said. “We have a lot of young players getting a lot of time on the field right now, and that’s not usually the case at this time in the season or what you want at this time. But I think those players are playing very well for us. They have stepped into the roles they have had to, and they are doing well.”

The Eagles, who were picked to win the conference in the preseason coaches’ poll, open BSC play on Friday against Sacramento State, and this is the second year in a row that these two teams have opened conference play against each other. Last year, the teams played to a 0-0 draw. Game time is at 3 p.m. at the EWU soccer fields and admission is free. •

Click here for more about the EWU Soccer team.