DeKALB – The Northern Illinois women’s soccer team could be poised to take a big leap in 2014.
When John Ross arrived at NIU in 2012, he pointed to his third season as a point in time where his team could take the next big step.
In women’s college soccer, where most players commit to schools either as sophomores or early in their junior year, NIU’s staff was at a disadvantage these past couple years not being on the normal recruiting timeline.
This season, which begins Friday against Illinois State at 4 p.m. in Normal, Ross expects to get contributions from his newcomers and veterans, and likes his club’s depth. Two freshmen he mentioned as making an impact are goalkeeper Amy Annala and midfielder Lauren Gierman. The team has 10 freshmen and six sophomores on its roster.
“Pretty much all the freshmen are going to contribute, all the returners are going to contribute,” Ross said. “That’s really going to help us throughout the season.”
NIU senior midfielder Ashley Neubeck remembers winning just two games as a freshman back in 2011. The Huskies went 8-9-2 in 2012 but fell to 6-11-3 last year. She said that when Ross came in, he was able to transform the program.
“He came in with a fresh attitude, some new ideas,” Neubeck said. “He kind of boosted us. We were kind of in a slump and he had some good ideas and got us excited.”
The upgrades around NIU athletics have helped as well. The Chessick Center was built last fall, and lights were added to the NIU Soccer and Track & Field Complex as well. The team also recently got a new locker room inside the NIU Convocation Center. Before, the team shared a locker room with other NIU programs at Huskie Stadium.
“[In high school], I was looking at the two-game season and stuff like that, and then when I came up to visit, it was the facilities,” said sophomore defender Alex Elias. “Seeing the Chessick being built and the New Hall dorms and stuff like that, I really liked it.”
After some rough years, there’s optimism with the program thanks in part to the talent Ross has brought in.
“It’s exciting. We have fresh talent. Right now in preseason we’re getting to know each other and getting to know how each other plays,” Neubeck said. “But it’s been a lot of fun, so we’re excited. We’re pumped for the season.”