After a historic 2019-20 season, the Illinois State University women’s soccer team has high hopes to build on its success.
For the young team to improve the Redbirds will look to the experience of their only redshirt senior — midfielder Abby Basler.
Basler, a native of St. Louis, was a four-year starter during her time at Ursuline Academy. There she was named team MVP for three seasons and was the team’s leading scorer each of her last three seasons. As a Redbird, Basler appeared in all 23 matches of her freshman season with eight as a starter. That season the Redbirds won the Missouri Valley Championship tournament and secured their spot in the 2016 NCAA tournament.
Basler redshirted the 2017 season due to injury, getting surgery on her hip.
“I tore my labrum my freshman season and got surgery the upcoming spring,” Basler said. “It was an eight-month recovery, so I was out all of my sophomore year.”
After sitting out a year Basler started right where she left off, starting in all 21 matches for the Redbirds and received multiple MVC awards.
“That [redshirt sophomore] season I had lofty goals for myself and I got on the first team All-MVC with my first full season back, so I am very proud of that,” Basler said.
Last year Basler was a major part of a historic team, starting in 17 games of the 2019 season and totaling over 1000 minutes of play. She was awarded the MVC Offensive Player of the Week for her second career hat trick and two assists in a 5-0 victory against North Florida.
“We clearly set some unbelievable records and that has a lot to do with the senior class that just graduated,” Basler said.
“They were a really good bunch that came in with me and I think they set some records individually and they helped us set some records as a team so I think coming off of that season we have some goals in mind for this coming season and we just want to keep building off of what we already accomplished last season.”
Of last year’s senior class, the loss of star midfielder, and MVC Player of the Year, Kate Del Fava — who was drafted 12th overall in the National Women’s Soccer League College Draft — will leave a large hole to fill.
“Kate, it was unbelievable what she accomplished … and is still accomplishing as a Utah Royal,” Basler said. “She was an incredible leader on and off the field. Filling that role, she had been a captain for three years, so filling that role is a lot of leadership to fill, but Ashley Santos and I and Sarah Ochitwa stepped up. We still have great leadership on the team. There are four of us seniors, as upperclassmen, we still are going to fill that role pretty easily because we all have that same end goal that Kate had when she was here.”
Basler’s leadership role has already been put to the test with the COVID-19 pandemic creating an unprecedented situation.
“I haven’t seen my teammates in three months now. That’s been extremely weird to get used to, but nowadays with social media and everything over the phone I stay in contact with them like every single day,” Basler said.
“But it’s definitely challenging not seeing them especially because our team is very close so seeing each other in person is what we like to do. Training by yourself has been not so fun but we all have the same end goal of wanting to come back fitter than ever, better than ever for the fall so we can win a championship and compete.”
One unique way Basler says the team is handling the COVID-19 pandemic is by a program they call Team Sisters, where a senior is paired with an incoming freshman as “sisters” and group up with two other girls on the team to form “families”.
“We have 12 freshmen coming up and that’s our biggest class we’ve had; that’s a lot of incoming girls,” Basler said. “We’re normally up here during the summer so they get integrated into our team pretty easily, but not having that this summer has kind of been a struggle because we don’t get to know their personalities as best or how they play the field. [Season Sisters] is something we grasp onto especially during this pandemic. Checking in weekly having FaceTime with your family; it just incorporates every class together … so that they do start feeling comfortable with the team because that’s a huge thing, bonding in the spring season and summer just to become a team in the fall.”
Despite the unusual circumstance the pandemic has created, the team goals for this upcoming season remain the same.
“We were talking, as a team, during this COVID thing over Zoom and we just said like, we want to be doing what we are doing now, we want to be doing it the best, running, fitness, soccer skills because we know that some teams in the MVC might not be doing it, and we want to come out of this as the best and on top, not only in the MVC but we want to make a statement in the NCAA,” Basler said. “So, I think, just using that as inspiration, that’s going to springboard us into the fall even though we haven’t been together yet.”
Heading into her last season as a Redbird, Basler still has something to prove.
“Personally, I definitely want to leave something behind whether that’s leadership or a record or whatnot, I just want to leave something behind for my teammates that will still be on the team next year and years to come within the program,” Basler said. “Mostly though, what I want personally is again an MVC championship, that’s just something I’ve been trying to force since my freshman year again.”
According to NCAA.org in a June 8 release from the NCAA Division I Competition Oversight Committee chair Lynda Tealer, the 2020 fall sports championships remain unchanged. “The plan at this time is to keep the same formats, the same timelines and the same previously determined sites for fall championships.”