Kick it up a notch

Wildcats are No. 2 seed in GNAC

Ryan Kinker, Senior Sports Reporter

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The Season So Far

After starting off the 2016 season with a historic 5-0 record, CWU women’s soccer has made the record books yet again.

The Wildcats have clinched the #2 seed in the GNAC Championships, while posting the best regular season record in school history (13-4-1 overall, 8-3-1 GNAC).

“That’s always a great accomplishment,” Michael Farrand, CWU women’s soccer head coach said. I think it says a lot about our group of girls and their commitment to each other and their commitment to soccer.”

While Western Washington University (WWU)  has posted the second best record in all of Division II Soccer (17-0-1 overall, 12-0-0 GNAC) while winning the regular season GNAC title, CWU has had a season to remember behind the excellent play of 11 upperclassmen who have started at least one game.

Junior Forward Whitney Lowe, who also serves as a team captain , is one of the many players that feels that their athletic careers at CWU have led to this successful year for the team.

“We’ve worked so hard since my freshman year to get to this point,” Lowe said. “It’s coming together now. My freshman class was very big and now we’re all juniors, the atmosphere and environment is just more mature. We’re not necessarily an older team, but we kind of are. It’s all coming together from freshman year to now and it’s great to see all of our hard work start to pay off.”

Senior defender Jessica Haga, who Coach Farrand described as “probably the best defender in school history,” thinks that the bond the team has formed over the last few years has led to a much better product on the field.

“This season has [been] the best for team chemistry,” Haga said. “That’s helped a lot in getting us to go further. We’re very excited to get to go forward, it’s new territory [for us].”

While the Wildcats averaged almost five or more shot attempts per game than their opponents (15.2 to 10.6), Coach Farrand believes that is more indicative about the skill of their defense than a time-consuming offense, as the team averaged 0.94 goals against per game through the season.

“We’re built around counter-attacking and speed,” Farrand said. “We don’t have any dominating player. [Junior midfielder Mackenzie Nolte] has her goals, [senior midfielder Keilin Farrand] has her goals and assists, but we’ve allowed 14 of our girls to score and that says a lot about how we’re built.”

One weakness the Wildcats have had this season relates to their aggressive style of defense: They led the GNAC in fouls, averaging over 11 per game (206 total). The team also tied for the GNAC lead in yellow cards with 14.

“We’re built around strong defense and our goals against average is below one [per game],” Farrand said. ““I think to win championships you have to start there.”

Aggressive play has also created benefits for the Wildcats, as the team was second in corner kicks (101), points (87), goals (31) and assists (25).

Mackenzie Nolte, Keilin Farrand and senior defender Allie Bohnett were all voted to the 2016 GNAC Women’s Soccer All-Conference First Team Tuesday. Jessica Haga, junior defender Abbie Litka and Whitney Lowe were all voted Honorable Mention. Farrand and Bohnett were unanimous selections to First Team. Bohnett was voted to the Second Team in 2015 and a Honorable Mention in 2014. Nolte was voted to the Second Team in 2014 and 2015. Lowe was also Second Team in 2015, with Litka being voted Honorable Mention in 2014 and 2015.

Aside from excellent play of 6 All-GNAC honorees, one of the biggest keys for a 13-win season has been the team’s refusal to play into the strengths of their opponents.

“We actually talked about this last week,” Farrand said. “We just want to concentrate on our brand of soccer and our style of soccer and not get too caught up in what other teams are doing.”

The Tournament Ahead

With the #2 seed in the GNAC Tournament, CWU will host #3 seed Seattle Pacific University (SPU) in Burnaby, British Columbia on Nov. 3. CWU beat SPU 1-0 on Sept. 26 in their first matchup of the season, and the teams tied 1-1 on Oct. 4.

“After the tie [in our last game against SPU], we want to come out a little harder and show them who we are,” Lowe said. [We want to] play like we did the first time, which was one of our best games. I think we’re all excited.”

SPU is the only team in the GNAC to win a Division II National Championship (2008), while also making the Division II National Championship match in 2005 (a 2-1 OT loss to University of Nebraska-Omaha). SPU made the Division II Final Four in 2007 as well.

“We’ve always kind of had a rivalry with them, but we’ve been coming out on top recently,” Haga said. “We’re looking forward to continuing that trend. But they’re definitely a good team to play against as when we face them they bring out our best play.”

WWU, who made the Final Four in 2013 and 2015, is the #1 seed and will face #4 seed Simon Fraser University (SFU). The winner will face the winner of CWU/SPU on Nov. 5.

If CWU finds a way to beat SPU for a second time this year, they will face a WWU team that defeated the Wildcats 4-1 on Oct. 22.

“To meet in a possible matchup with [WWU],” Farrand said. “It’s great but it doesn’t matter to us. You still have to win, whether it’s WWU, SPU or SFU. To win a GNAC championship, you still have to win. It doesn’t matter who you play.”

The last three GNAC Championship games have been between WWU and SPU, with SPU winning in 2013 and 2014. This trend has not deterred the Wildcats from accepting the challenge.

“SPU and WWU have continually been the top two teams in the GNAC,” Farrand said. “Both have been to the Final Four, so they have a long history of winning.”

While WWU are overwhelmingly the favorite to win, leading the league in every statistical category possible, while being ranked #1 in the Division II West Region Rankings. After having a season a cut above the rest, however, the Wildcats aren’t going to shy away from an underdog narrative.

“Like Coach [Farrand] said, we’ve already broken [school] records,” Haga said. “So anything we do from here on out is new for us and exciting.”

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