Illinois State soccer will kickoff against 19 teams on its 2016-17 schedule.
And for the Redbirds, every game will count as they attempt to bounce back from a 6-10-2 record. But what gives coach Eric Golz optimism this season believing the Missouri Valley Conference will once again be up for grabs for all seven teams.
“I think on the whole, the conference is going to be pretty strong this year,” Golz said. “It is going to be a really competitive race for the conference championship.”
But they will also have to worry about a tough non-conference schedule. Six teams from power-six conferences will play the Redbirds, with two of them coming off an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Here are some of the games to keep an eye out for this season:
August 19 vs. Wisconsin
One of the positives from last season was the Redbirds’ 1-0 win against the Badgers in Madison. Now, the defending Big Ten regular season champions will be coming to Normal for a rematch. And Golz thinks this is a match his returning players will anticipate greatly due to last season’s results.
“I think our returning players are certainly excited to get another opportunity to play against them,” Golz said. “We measure ourselves against the best competition available and our players are certainly trying to do that this fall.”
Led by senior Rose Lavelle, who participated with the U.S. national team last winter, UW will attempt to defend its Big Ten crown this season. This will be the highest profile team to come to Adelaide Street Field this season.
September 2 at Notre Dame
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are one of two power-six teams ISU will face this season that made the NCAA Tournament last season, with the other being Northwestern.
UND has won three national championships over the course of 23 consecutive tournament appearances. Coach Theresea Romagnolo has kept the Irish as one of the nation’s most consistent teams despite entering her third season. Last year, UND made it to the second round of the tournament as its region’s No. 3 seed before falling to Connecticut 2-0. Forwards Kaleigh Olmsted and Kaitlin Klawunder make this team one of the national favorites again this year.
“To have the opportunity to play against a program with that type of history is an honor,” Golz said.
October 12 at Loyola
During the regular season last year, the Redbirds beat the Ramblers 2-1 in Normal. But in a rematch during the first round of the MVC Tournament, Loyola got back at them with a 2-1 win of their own, ending ISU’s season.
“I don’t think there is any way to differentiate between conference matches as to who is more important than the other,” Golz said. “Because we are only playing six conference matches, they are all greatly important. And you saw it last year when our standings went down to the very last game of the season and we could have finished anywhere between second and fifth.”
Loyola brings back many key players for this year’s campaign after losing in the MVC Tournament Championship game to Evansville. Sophomore Jenna Szczesny made the MVC Second Team last season while collecting Freshman of the Year honors as well. The Ramblers will try to build around her and try to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007.
October 23 at Evansville
Evansville will be coming into the season with a target on its backs after winning the MVC Tournament Championship last year. Golz says thanks to the fact the Aces did not lose many players to graduation; they should be in contention for another championship.
The Aces bring back a roster capable of leading UE to a second consecutive birth in the NCAA Tournament. Seniors Emily Richardson and Bronwyn Boswell made the MVC First Team last season while sophomore Sara Osinski was a member of the All-Freshman Team. That trio should help Evansville continue to grow as one of the conference’s premier teams.
With this being the second to last game before the MVC Tournament for the Redbirds, this game could be crucial to helping the Redbirds stay in the hunt for a regular season championship.