By Robert Hayes
“Winning games and making the tournament.”
Those are second-year Youngstown State University women’s soccer coach Brian Shrum’s goals for the upcoming season.
Over the past few weeks, the YSU women’s soccer team has been practicing hard as they prepare for their first spring scrimmage against the Toronto Blizzard.
The Penguins didn’t have the season they wanted last fall, as they finished the year with a record of 1-13-4, but Shrum and a youthful roster are looking to take a step forward this spring as they prepare for the fall season.
YSU did lose several players from last fall to graduation and transfers, but for the most part the core team from last season is intact. Shrum believes many of these players are ready to step up.
“I think we’ve got a lot of talented players on the team now that are taking steps, and we have a lot of young kids on the team that are going to be a year in,” Shrum said. “Then we’ll have another group next year.”
Injuries plagued the Penguins last season, as Jordan Evans, Sammy Salatino and Lexi Neal are still sidelined. Lauren Dolak is also a member of YSU’s track and field team as a distance runner, which means she’ll be unable to participate in spring scrimmages.
During a recent team practice with a half field at the Watson and Tressel Training Site, the offense was running plays similar to how a football team practices against a scout team. Shrum was calling out plays and coaching the offensive team, while assistant coach Josh Green was working with the defensive team.
The offensive team’s objective was to push and try to score a goal, while the defensive team’s task was to steal the ball and score on two miniature nets set up at midfield.
Freshman Laurel Prokopchak seemed optimistic about moving forward.
“We’re all working really hard at practice and getting our formation down,” Prokopchak said.
She started 17 out of the 18 games last season, but she’s ready going into her second season at YSU.
“Last season definitely got me prepared the next upcoming season, because it got me a feel for how Division I soccer players are and how fast the game is, so I definitely got used to it,” Prokopchak said.
She also has some goals moving forward.
“As a team hopefully we win some of these spring games, and build our confidence for next season,” Prokopchak said.
The spring season gives the Penguins an opportunity to fine tune and prepare for the fall, while also facing tough competition. It will also give Bethany Rasile, a transfer from the University of Pittsburgh, the opportunity to adjust to a different style of play. Rasile is a graduate of nearby Niles McKinley High School who will have three full seasons of eligibility left.
Shrum believes the spring is good for development.
“We’ll use this time now to play some good competition in the spring,” Shrum said. “We’ll go play a lot of Division I schools that are in the area that are good in their conferences, so we’ll challenge them in that regard.”
YSU is playing six games this spring, with home matches against Akron University and Kent State being the highlights of the spring schedule. The Penguins host a total of four home matches, with the first match kicking off on March 3 at 11 a.m. at Farmers National Bank Field in the Covelli Sports Complex.