Final Homestand Bodes Well for Future of Cougar Soccer

By Dylan Haugh

The 2016 Washington State Women’s Soccer season came to a close Thursday night in Pullman, a season that’s been marred with seven one goal losses and plenty of shots off the crossbar. The Cougars defeated the Washington Huskies 2-0 on goals from senior Kaitlyn (Kaito) Johnson and stud transfer Alysha Overland. For the 13th straight year, the Cougars remained unbeaten against the Huskies.

Head Coach Todd Shulenburger challenged his team before the game, “The first thing I said in the pregame, you’re down 1-0 tonight, now you got to come back.”

When you look at the season statistics, the Cougs out-shot their opponents 322-214, were +33 in shots on goal, and +25 in corner kicks. Go figure, huh? The Pac-12 has long been dominant in soccer for men and women. It’s a breeding ground for future professional players on both sides. Currently, five Pac-12 teams (USC, Stanford, UCLA, Utah, Cal) sit in the Women’s D1 Top 25, and the Cougs played each of them on the road, losing by one goal each time, with the exception of one match.

“Every one of those games, we were in on the road. Last minute goal here, last-minute goal there. I still think we are a better soccer team now as far as playing soccer, and you can ask the coaches in the conference,” Shulenburger said.

The Cougars are knocking on the doorstep nationally and will head into the 2017 season as a sneaky, under the radar team. For the Cougs to take that next step, this returning group must produce results on the road (0-6-1 in 2016). Two trips to California against four nationally ranked powerhouses will have its benefits come next season when the Cougars face tough road contests.

Freshman sensation Morgan Weaver ran circles around opposing teams this season, leading the team with eight goals. Against the Huskies, Weaver finally checked into the assist column, splitting a double-team inside the box and setting up Johnson for a one-touch strike to the back of the net. Johnson spoke with a smile when asked about Weaver’s dish.

“It was awesome, I have always been on the assisting end of her goals, mostly this year, so it was awesome. She’s going to grow into a really great player here.”

Weaver goes about her business quietly. On the field, she’s a silent assassin looking for the back of the net, making constant runs and winning 50/50 balls. Weaver finished the year 4th in the Pac-12 in shots, and 5th in goals. When asked if anybody can keep up with her, her sweet innocence showed.

Do you feel like anyone can keep up with you speed wise? “Yeah!” You do? “Yeahhh.” Anyone on the Huskies? “I don’t know.” You look faster than everyone out there… Chuckles. “I don’t like saying stuff like this.”

Overland will look to build off an incredible season up top. The JC transfer continued to perform, gaining more playing time throughout the year. Overland’s shot on goal percentage was 50% this season as she converted 6/12 opportunities. More importantly, Overland’s goals were clutch, with four of them being game-winning goals. Shulenburger praised his diamond in the rough.

“The kid never played club soccer, she came from a junior college. She had big goals this year. UCLA, Santa Clara, UW, I mean the list goes on,”

With core players like Weaver (Fr),  Kelsey Crenshaw (Jr), Overland (So), Grace Hancock (So), Maegan O’Neill (So), Ella Dederick (So), Sofia Anker-Kofoed (Jr), and Maddy Haro (So) returning, the Cougs look to build off a solid final three-game stretch.

The performance from this younger Cougar nucleus in 2016 will surely give Shulenburger and the rest of the Cougar staff confidence in getting the program on track for a tourney run. There’s nothing sweeter than ending the season with a win over the Huskies.

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