In what will be its first regular season action of the year, the Iowa State soccer team will travel to California to battle the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) Bruins and UC Irvine Anteaters.
The Bruins, ranked fourth in the nation heading into this week, are coming off a year in which they went 17-3-2 (9-2 PAC 12) and lost in the NCAA Quarterfinals to North Carolina on penalty kicks.
As for the Anteaters, they finished 8-7-4 (4-1-3 Big West) and lost in the first round of the Big West conference tournament.
With formidable competition in sight, coach Tony Minatta has preached to his team the thing that will help them compete no matter what: defense.
“One thing I see that is different from last year is more of a sense of urgency with our defending," Minatta said. "We are getting a lot of ball pressure and just in the first games, you could see it, neither Drake nor Northern Iowa had an opportunity inside of 18, even 20 yards in."
Iowa State played two exhibition games last week, defeating Northern Iowa 4-0 on Wednesday and Drake 2-0 on Saturday.
Those two wins have given the Cyclones confidence, especially after a strong finish to the 2018 season. The Cyclones ended the season winning two crucial late season games to sneak into eighth place and earn a spot in the Big 12 Tournament.
“I think just the positivity of winning those games will help us moving forward into these tougher games," said Tavin Hays, a junior forward who was elected a co-captain prior to the season. “We just need to keep that team bond strong throughout the year and know that we win as a team and lose as a team.”
Team camaraderie was one of the biggest question marks for the team coming into the year for the Cyclones, especially considering that the squad added eleven freshman.
That adjustment to the pace of college ball could slow the group as a whole down.
However, it seemed as if the team was on the same page in the Northern Iowa game as all four goals were scored by freshman.
“We have a lot of depth on this team right now so we weren’t sure what exactly the freshmen were going to do when they got into a game," Minatta said. "But they showed they were more than capable, so we are excited about where they are at."
One of those goal-scoring freshman was midfielder Mira Emma, who scored in both the Northern Iowa and Drake wins.
“I like the togetherness of this team," Emma said. "Everybody here is just like a family.
"We are all tight and we hang out with each other and on the field we compete — and that is something really special."
The other three freshmen that scored in the Drake game were true freshman midfielders Claudia Najera and Eva Steckelberg, and redshirt freshman forward Kenady Adams.
Despite the offensive success, Minatta believes that it is the defensive side of the ball that will help the Cyclones battle this weekend.
“We just need to be disciplined and organized with what we’re doing," Minatta said. "We’re very fast, we’re very athletic, we’re physical and we know how to defend and if you can do that against any team, no matter who they are, you can put yourself in a position to have success."
"With that mantra, whoever we go up against should get the same type of performance."
The Cyclones are coming off a season where they finished 4-14-2 (2-6-1 Big 12).
Injuries riddled the Cyclones as many women were playing out of their natural positions as the season went on.
With everyone back healthy this year, the Cyclones are looking to make their mark.
“I just want the team to play as us and not change because of who we’re playing against," Hays said. "We just need to stick to what we do best and play as hard as we can."
Iowa State will play at UCLA Friday at 9 p.m. and at UC Irvine Sunday at 3 p.m.