In sports, the term “historic” is often thrown around too frequently, and yet “historic” is the only word that begins to define ISU’s 2013 soccer campaign. In what was the greatest soccer season the Redbirds have ever seen, ISU matched a program high of 14 wins in route to a third consecutive Missouri Valley Conference title. After upsetting Louisville in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Redbirds became the first MVC team to ever reach the round of 32 in the tournament, with the season ultimately cumulating in a loss to third-seeded Michigan.
To call such a season a success would be an understatement, as the Redbirds officially solidified themselves as a powerhouse program within the MVC. Such a reputation has its pressures however, as now the Redbirds face a brutal 2014 schedule and greater expectations than ever before.
The Redbirds will play 12 non-conference games, five feature opponents that made the field of 64 in last year’s NCAA tournament, including a Texas A&M team that finished the season ranked eighth by NSCAA coaches and Boston College who is fresh off an Elite Eight appearance. As usual, the Redbirds are up to the challenge.
“We are very excited about the challenging schedule we have put together for 2014,” head coach Drew Roff said. “Our goal every year is to play the highest level of competition possible in non-conference play, so we are fully prepared once conference play begins. With a strong group returning, we feel that this schedule gives us an opportunity to see how we stack up, not only regionally, but on a national scale. We definitely have our work cut out, but I think this is the type of competition that will bring out the best in our players.”
Adding to the daunting task of matching last year’s success will be the departures of Kyla Cross, Allie Newsom and Anna Stinson. The decorated trio of players were integral to ISU’s success and will leave a void that will be tough to fill.
Still, there is plenty of room for optimism. ISU will return the rest of their starters, including reigning MVC player of the year Rachel Tejada. Arguably the best player in the MVC and among the most elite in the country, Tejada enters the season as the NCAA Division I active career leader for goals and assists and will be tasked with leading the team like never before. With a very solid incoming class of players and the addition of Creighton transfer Paige Jarsombeck, ISU should be every bit as formidable as last year.
The Redbirds will begin the season with exhibition games against Notre Dame and Purdue and will then officially open the 2014 campaign with a home game against Northern Illinois on Aug. 22. Following the end of the regular season, ISU will host the MVC Women’s Soccer Championship for the first time ever in program history.
With a chance to defend their title on Normal’s own Adelaide Street Field and the incredible past three years of success, there is plenty for fans to be excited about. After completing only the second three-peat in MVC history, there will be much hype entering the season and given the strength of the roster, the Redbirds should be the unquestioned favorite to add another title. If they do iearn a berth into a fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance, then as they proved last year, the sky is the limit.