By Jeff Brown
With five games left in the season, the Youngstown State University women’s soccer team has had a rocky season to this point. The team is 5-8 on the year, but has struggled since hitting conference play going 0-4.
The slow start in conference play is something that head coach Will Lemke was not expecting after last season’s success. The team was 7-9-2 a year ago, but boasted a 6-0-2 home record. This season the Penguins are just 3-5 at home.
“I think that we just kind of thought it was going to be easy, when it’s going to be way harder now. The conference got better, and teams are looking out for us,” Lemke said. “We didn’t have the focus and intensity needed to have in general, but especially once conference started.”
As a team consisting of 10 freshmen and eight sophomores, some growing pains were expected for the YSU women’s soccer program. Though this season may not have gone expected to this point, the youth on the team points to a bright future for the Penguins.
“As other classes slimmed out, a lot of our younger classes are so big,” sophomore defensemen Sophie McFarland said. “Once we are able to build the program up some more, the youth will definitely help to rebuild the program.”
Due to size of the freshmen and sophomore classes and injuries to Katie Hohmann and Katie Montgomery this season, the underclassmen have been forced to step up and take a larger role. McFarland believes getting freshmen early playing time is a huge advantage that has already shown signs of paying off.
“I think it’s really important to get those minutes as a freshman and even as a sophomore. It gives you a big advantage,” McFarland said. “Marissa Martin played every game last year as a freshman and she’s one of our captains this year, so that obviously gave her a top hand.”
Coach Lemke thinks that playing freshmen early is important for their development, but his number one focus is on winning now, not the future.
“I’m worried about now. Some of our freshmen have stepped up and done a good job,” Lemke said. “Yes, we do have people who are pressed into action and learning the game at this level, but that’s part of the gig on this level. You either step up and play or you don’t play. But I think this experience does help us going forward, but right now everyone’s expected to perform regardless of their age.”
With five games remaining this year, the Penguins will have a chance to rise from the cellar of the Horizon League standings. Two of the Penguins’ remaining games come against the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and University of Illinois at Chicago. Both are tied with the Penguins at the bottom of the Horizon League.
“We’ve got to make a move. I want to see our team really making a move and finishing strong with intensity and executing what we [want] on both sides of the ball for 90 minutes,” Lemke said. “We’ve got to play our system with focus and intensity for 90 minutes — that’s the key. If we can do that we’ll be okay.”