Women’s soccer team embraces young, new look

This year, the Cougars’ roster features 13 incoming freshmen with intentions of playing fast soccer

Senior+Forward+Kaitlyn+Johnson+sprints+to+the+ball+in+a+game+against+the+Colorado+Buffaloes+Sept.+23%2C+2016
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Women’s soccer team embraces young, new look

Senior Forward Kaitlyn Johnson sprints to the ball in a game against the Colorado Buffaloes Sept. 23, 2016

Senior Forward Kaitlyn Johnson sprints to the ball in a game against the Colorado Buffaloes Sept. 23, 2016

JESSICA HARJA | Daily Evergreen File

Senior Forward Kaitlyn Johnson sprints to the ball in a game against the Colorado Buffaloes Sept. 23, 2016

JESSICA HARJA | Daily Evergreen File

JESSICA HARJA | Daily Evergreen File

Senior Forward Kaitlyn Johnson sprints to the ball in a game against the Colorado Buffaloes Sept. 23, 2016

JACOB MOORE, Evergreen sports editor

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Women’s soccer kicks off its season at home with alumni night at 7 p.m. Friday against No. 19 Minnesota. Former players will be welcomed back and honored in a pre-game ceremony.

In a rebuilding year for both the team and the field, fans should expect an all-around fresh look.

Head Coach Todd Shulenberger argued that WSU was already home to the nicest field in the Pac-12. He said the summer renovations reinforced his belief, as he passes by the Lower Soccer Field frequently.

“The press box is going to be the Taj Mahal of press boxes,” Shulenberger said. “It’s setting up for something really special.”

In his first year with the Cougars, Shulenberger tied the program record for wins with a 14-6 overall record. The team went on to the NCAA tournament but lost in double overtime against Northwestern University in the first round.

The program finished with more losses than wins last year, but this year, Shulenberger said his team has a goal of finishing on top of the Pac-12 — or, in his words, the “Pac-8 and California schools.”

All four California teams finished in the top half of the Pac-12 in 2016 with Stanford and USC coming in at first and second. In fact, two California schools have finished with the best records in the Pac-12 since the 2013 season when WSU almost wound up winning the conference.

If the Cougars can get back to the NCAA tournament, they will have done it with 13 incoming freshmen.

“This will be the youngest Coug team,” Shulenberger said. “The exciting part is we’re young, but athletic. This might be the fastest team coming in.”

The Cougars need to score goals if they want to be productive and get closer to where the program was a couple years ago, Shulenberger said. The relaxation of this team should help to push them competitively, though.

“These girls know how to flip the switch,” Shulenberger said. “Sometimes, you have teams that are strict when they get on the field or so laid back… that really isn’t a problem here.”

Shulenberger said he hopes accountability will draw the culture together. He added that the competition has already stepped up this summer, he said as the strength and conditioning coach.

“We’re going to take our bumps and bruises because we’re young,” Shulenberger said. “I do feel excited about this opportunity.”