by Andrew Goodwin, Sports Information Assistant
SPOKANE, Wash. – Whitworth women's soccer has its eye on the top of the Northwest Conference after consecutive seasons of steady improvement under third-year head coach Bryan Olson.
After placing sixth in 2015, Pirates tied for third in the NWC in 2016 and improved to a tie for second in last season. This year, the Bucs believe they can make their way to the top of the conference, competing with a traditional NWC powerhouse in Puget Sound and the reigning champions in Pacific Lutheran
"Our group this year incredibly capable," said Olson. "The women truly care about one another, which drove us forward in great ways last year and will continue to be foundational as we step into the year ahead."
The Pirates conference title hopes are buoyed by the return three all-conference players from last season's squad alongside several athletes who the coaching staff expect will take steps forward in the new season.
"Within the squad we have great experience and leadership returning across the board," said Olson. "Our returning players will be counted on to model and encourage exactly what we are looking for in our incoming group."
One of the returning All-NWC athletes is first team center back Sydney Weiler. The senior came to Whitworth as a transfer in 2017 and anchored a Pirate defense that finished fourth in the NWC in goals allowed and third in shutouts.
Weiler will be joined on the back line by an experienced senior in Tatem Fredrickson, who started at the position in both her sophomore and junior seasons. The duo will likely be backed up by Emily Schwisow and freshman Amanda Gerard.
The Pirate back line brings back almost as much experience on the wings as well, where juniors Shirley Chander and Courtney Harmon will look to step into starting spots after two years as reserves. Both Harmon and Chandler will have competition for their positions as well with capable reserves in Kylee Platt and Nicole Jacobson, both of whom saw the field on multiple occasions in 2017.
In the midfield, Whitworth will be counting on all-NWC second teamer Kelly Wucherer to keep the ball moving. The senior is a three-year starter who finished last season with three goals and an assist.
Wucherer will likely be joined by sophomore Jadyn Baumgartner as well as Annie Clark and Mackenzie Popp, who will be competing for the starting position in the defensive midfield. Both Popp and Clark saw time in the midfield as reserves last season, while Baumgartner started the majority of the team's matches as a wing back.
The four returners will be pushed for playing time by a trio of freshmen: Lauren Richardson, Kalyn Gill and Brixaida Mendoza.
Offensively, the Pirates will count on production from two-time All-NWC honoree Arielle Van Perseum. The senior forward was a first team selection in 2016 after finishing third in the NWC in goals and earned an honorable mention choice last season despite battling an injury for part of the year.
A pair of new starters will join Van Perseum at the front of the Whitworth formation. Gabi Coprivnicar, Rachel Woffard, and Cobi Yoshimura will compete for the starting spot in the middle of the field, while Sarah Cool, Lauren Hepler, and Ivahnna Espinoza battle for time on the wing opposite Van Perseum.
The return of junior Hannah Miller gives the Bucs an experienced reserve who can back-up Van Perseum as well as play the midfield.
In goal, Whitworth returns senior goalkeeper Molly Webster, who sported a 0.79 goals against average with 4 shutouts last season. Isabelle Arends will bring depth to the position as a freshman.
The Bucs open the 2018 campaign with a trip to Pennsylvania for two non-conference contests against Franklin & Marshall on Friday, August 31 and Messiah on Saturday Sept. 1. Whitworth then returns to the Northwest for two more matches against NAIA foes. The Pirates travel to Whitman to take on the College of Idaho on Friday, Sept. 9 and battle Carroll (Mont). College the next day.
Whitworth's Northwest Conference season commences the following weekend when the Pirates head to the west side of Washington to take on Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound. The Bucs' home opener is scheduled for Wednesday, September 19 against Whitman.