By Mike Stetson

mstetson@idahopress.com

A school-record 14 wins, a top 20 ranking and a historic victory over perennial Cascade Conference champion Concordia all highlighted a memorable 2009 campaign for the College of Idaho women’s soccer team.

So what do they do for an encore?

“The goal that the girls set out is they want to go to the national tournament,” said fifth-year coach Niki Taylor. “They’ve set a goal, and some smaller goals, that they need to qualify for the conference tournament and hopefully at that time of year we’re playing our best soccer.”

Right now, though, Taylor says the team is working on it’s defensive formation, making sure “everybody is on the same page and kind of getting their roles and responsibilities down.”

They are preparing for Thursday at 4 p.m., when the Yotes — ranked No. 21 in the NAIA preseason poll — play at Canyon County rival Northwest Nazarene in the season-opener for both squads.

“The kids certainly are ready to get that first game underway against a big rival,” Taylor said, “so it should be a good atmosphere for the afternoon.”

Key returners

  • One reason the C of I has high expectations for this season is the fact 15 players return from last year’s team, ready to take the next step.

That includes NAIA honorable mention All-American Erika Mouritsen, a senior forward who led the Yotes in scoring (13 goals), and will be one of the offensive keys.

“She’s very athletic so she’s going to give other team’s defenders a real hard time just with her pace,” Taylor said.

She’ll be helped out by junior midfielder Chelsea Heffner, a two-time all-conference pick who netted six goals last season.

  • While Heffner will help out on both ends of the field, the same can be said for two of the Yotes top defenders in sophomore Kayla Bigelow and junior Jessica Patton.

Bigelow, who scored three goals last season, moves from the midfield to center back, and Taylor said, “she’s really solid in that position. We trust that she’ll help us stay organized and win a lot of balls back there.”

As for Patton, the Yote coach added, “she does a great job defensively and is also dangerous going forward.”

Top newcomers

  • Last year, the C of I scrambled to fill the shoes of injured keeper Sadie Hughes, and got a remarkable effort from forward Kelly Hardegree-Ullman, who stepped in and led the Coyotes to within a game of nationals.

This year, Hardegree-Ullman won’t have to shoulder the load as Taylor brought in 5-foot-10 freshman Melissa Holmes from California to play between the pipes.

“It’s going to take her a little bit to adjust to the college game, but she’s athletic, she’s got good size and she’s got a good skill set,” Taylor said. “I think if she adjusts and becomes more comfortable with the group and what’s expected for her, she’s going to do a real good job for us.”

  • Taylor also expects good things from a couple of local recruits, Sarah Hicks from Boise High and Dehvan Morgan from Vallivue High, are two of just five new recruits.

Hick’s will add depth up front as Taylor said, “she’s got great pace, she’s a technical player; she’ll probably end up out wide for us.

The Yote coach added that Morgan will play in the midfield and can also help out on defense.

The season

For the C of I to meet its own expectations — and make nationals — the Coyotes will need to navigate a 10-team league that Taylor says continues to improve.

The top four teams in the league make the postseason, and the C of I coach expects fellow postseason qualifiers Corban and Oregon Tech both to be tough, along with Concordia, which was picked to win the league by the coaches.

Last year, the Coyotes shared the league title with Concordia, thanks in part to a 2-1 win over the Cavaliers in Portland, Ore., the first for the C of I since 1995.

“A lot of it is a mental battle, and hopefully we’ve bridged that gap a little,” said Taylor of competing with Concordia.

Those teams will play in Caldwell this year, on Oct. 2.

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