WSU soccer gets set for fall season

Cougars returns ten starters from last season; picked to finish 5th in Pac-12

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COLE QUINN

Head coach Todd Shulenberger leads a preseason practice on Aug. 16 at the Lower Soccer Field in Pullman.

AARIK LONG, Evergreen sports editor

The Cougars women’s soccer team head back to the Lower Soccer Field this fall for their second season of the 2021 calendar year.

After the 2020 season was pushed back to the spring of 2021, the 2021 season returns to its traditional place in the fall. The return to a normal schedule is not the only return for WSU, as the Cougs bring back 22 players in addition to their 12 new players joining the roster. That includes the goal scorers of 13 of last season’s 17 goals and last season’s leading scorer, fifth-year senior Elyse Bennett.

Ten of the 11 starters from last season also return, with the lone exception being Makamae Gomera-Stevens, who is currently playing with the Houston Dash of the NWSL.

The Cougars are set up for success as they roll into the regular season. Going into the year, the Pac-12 coaches selected WSU to finish No. 5 in the conference this season.

However, it will certainly not be an easy road to that finish. Of the four teams selected ahead of the Cougs, three are ranked within the TopDrawerSoccer Top 25, with the Washington Huskies sitting the lowest at 18. The lone team of that group ahead of WSU to not make the cut was the Stanford Cardinal.

The Cougars will not face any team ranked in the preseason Top 25 during their non-conference schedule, but it still presents a challenge, being ranked as the fifth toughest stretch of matches in the Pac-12. 

That stretch starts with a home match-up against the defending Sun Belt champions, Arkansas State on Thursday in a first-ever meeting of the two teams. A little over a week later, the Cougars will host Eastern Washington, which WSU holds an all-time 6-0 record against.

The Cougars will then get their first road trip of the season, as they head to California to face the San Diego State Aztecs. The Aztecs finished as runner-ups in the Mountain West Conference last season. This is the first meeting between the teams since 1996. WSU won the most recent meeting, but San Diego State holds the better record overall with a 3-1 record against WSU. 

This will be followed by a two-game home-stand against Seattle and Hawaii. WSU holds a 15-1 record against Seattle and a perfect 7-0 against Hawaii. 

The Cougars will follow this up with a three-game road trip. First up is a meeting with the Kansas Jayhawks in Lawrence, Kansas. This is the first time that the two programs have ever met. After that, WSU will make a stop in Denver, Colorado, to face the Denver Pioneers. WSU holds a 1-1-1 record all-time against the Pioneers.

They’ll close up the road trip and the non-conference schedule with a meeting in Greely, Colorado, against the Northern Colorado Bears, which WSU holds a 1-0 record against. 

Once the conference schedule hits, things get a bit more complicated. Luckily for the Cougars, they will get to host some of the big hitters, including Stanford, No. 5 UCLA and No. 6 USC. Having three of your four biggest matches of the season at home is a major advantage for WSU.

The Cougars will also host Arizona and California. The road schedule, aside from one match, is much easier for the Cougars, as they visit Utah, Colorado, Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State and No. 18 Washington. The Apple Cup match will wrap up the regular season for WSU.

All of this comes following the Cougars one preseason friendly. The team traveled over the state line on Aug. 13 to face the Idaho Vandals. WSU came away with a 2-0 victory inside of the Kibbie Dome on the backs of goals from junior Bridget Rieken and fifth-year Sydney Pulver. 

This team has the talent to put a great season together. Bennett and sophomore Margie Detrizio will likely lead the offense, while Rieken and senior Mykiaa Minniss will be the heart of the defense. In goal, fifth-year transfer Marissa Zucchetto will look to continue to perform for the Cougs.

WSU has all the pieces and the schedule to make a run at postseason play this year. It is a team as talented as any we have seen. The team can generate some momentum in the non-conference slate before running into their toughest slate of games in the final three weeks of the season.