The Iowa State soccer team has waited a long time for this opportunity. The Cyclones haven’t played against another team competitively in over six months.
But on Friday that will change.
The squad will suit up for the first time under a whole new coaching staff, including Head Coach Matt Fannon and Goalkeeper Coach Dan Ball, who come from Bowling Green after two consecutive conference championships.
“We’ve really got that hunger to play,” Ball said. “I think this time off has been a blessing in disguise because it allowed us to get to know our athletes better and learn, we just haven’t had the opportunity to test it.”
The Cyclones will take on the West Virginia Mountaineers, a team that defeated them 2-0 in Morgantown, West Virginia, last year.
West Virginia went on to finish the year 12-8-1 (5-3-1 Big 12), including an NCAA Tournament berth, making it to the Sweet 16. West Virginia rides a streak of 17 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. West Virginia returns most of its roster as well, including top goal scorer Alina Stahl (eight goals).
But Ball said although West Virginia is a quality team, Iowa State just has to focus on itself.
“If we spend a lot of time worrying about West Virginia, especially early in the year, we’re not getting much better as a group,” Ball said. “We want to hone in on the things we can do well, like win 50/50s and leave the field gassed.”
Last year, Iowa State went 3-15 and 0-9 in Big 12 play. With only the conference games this year, Ball said it makes every match that much more important. He said the aggressive style the Mountaineers play will try to get Iowa State down early.
But the team is ready to take on the challenge.
“Despite coronavirus, we’re in a place that this is a really big season in terms of not being on anyone’s radar and it could blow us up,” said Georgia Wimmer, the goalkeeper for the Cyclones. “I think we’re doing a lot better job of having that winning mentality on and off the field and embracing it.”
The Cyclones top three goal scorers from last year, senior Courtney Powell (four) and sophomores Kenady Adams (two) and Mira Emma (two) return.
Iowa State also brings back nine of its 11 starters from the most commonly used lineup last year. In total, 11 returning players logged at least seven starts.
“I think we feel more prepared this year just because we’ve had so much time off and we understand the system the coaches want us to play,” said McKenna Schultz, a senior defender who started 17 out of 18 games last year. “Wins and losses are very important but it’s not going to show all the growth we’ve been making as a team.”
The Cyclones are employing a new formation, playing more through the backs and middle to control the ball longer and get more scoring opportunities.
Wimmer said this should help keep the ball from being on the Cyclones’ half of the field so much and putting pressure on the defense.
“The coaches have been stressing us to play as a team and that everything matters together instead of just being individuals,” Wimmer said.
Iowa State graduated four seniors, losing depth across the field. But a vast majority of the Cyclones' offensive production from 2019 is back, with 29 of the team’s 32 points last year being tallied by players on the 2020 roster.
The Cyclones played three exhibition matches in the spring, going 2-0-1. They defeated North Dakota State 6-1 and Missouri 1-0. The tie was against Drake, drawing at 1-1.
But this will be the Cyclones’ first game action in over six months.
“For us, it’s really just seeing the things we’ve been stressing in practice come to results on the field,” Wimmer said. “And even if those things don’t work, we can still control how we react and fight back.”
A press release last week by Iowa State stated no fans will be allowed at home events. The only people allowed at the contest are the families of players and coaches.
While this may give the players less energy to play, Schultz said it will come from within.
“The main thing is going to be not letting outside factors control how we play on the field,” Schultz said. “It’s on us to get ready to play and I know we can do it as a team.”