The Iowa State soccer team wrapped up the non-conference portion of their season this past week and ended with positive signs, as well as setbacks. The Cyclones first hosted Creighton at home on Thursday and then faced South Dakota on the road on Sunday afternoon. They won their first match 1-0 against the Bluejays and then dropped their second matchup against the Coyotes in Vermillion by the same scoreline.
The Cyclones' performance over the past two matches was defined by their play between the posts as well as a new crop of talent providing offensive firepower throughout the 90 minutes.
Silkowitz commands goal
Junior goalkeeper Jordan Silkowitz has already gotten the 2021 season off to a strong start. The Ohio State transfer was a big reason as to why Iowa State was able to come away with a win against Creighton, as she recorded her second shutout of the season to lead the Iowa State backfield.
"Matt [Fannon] summed it up perfectly in our huddle, 'We won the big moments today,'" Silkowitz said after Iowa State's win over the Bluejays on Thursday night. "The first 20 minutes weren't particularly pretty and we didn't play great, but we got the job done and did what it took to win the game."
Silkowitz provided a couple of those big moments to keep the score level against a Creighton offense looking to attack on any opportunity they got. She finished the match with three saves, including a spectacular double early in the first half.
The sequence began inside the six-yard box and saw Silkowitz first tip a floating shot attempt from Creighton junior Aida Kardovic that fell just a few feet from goal. That gave another scoring chance for fellow junior Michaela Weist, whose header was again saved by Silkowitz off the left post to keep both teams tied at 0-0. The play even made ESPN's 'SportsCenter Top 10' list that night, coming in at number eight.
She finished the weekend off with another pair of saves in Iowa State's loss to South Dakota to bring her tally to a total of 24 through the last six games.
Freshmen class rise to the occasion
The Cyclones acquired a large crop of new talent heading into to this season, with all seven players joining the squad having previously played overseas. Through its first eight games of the 2021 campaign, Iowa State has scored seven goals, with six of them coming from freshman players.
Defender Clara Thimstrand became the newest member of that group against the Bluejays, when she latched onto a free kick from Silkowitz in the 35th minute and poked the ball through the crowd of players to give Iowa State the lead. Thimstrand's defensive performance also provided a boost to Iowa State maintaining that lead, with Fannon saying that, "As much as she got the goal, she was unbelievable defensively and got everything in the air. She was a warrior tonight."
Fannon's outlook on his newest group of players has changed as the season has progressed.
"Frankly, we expected less of them this year than what they've been able to give us," Fannon said. "It's pretty stereotypical that freshmen are not going to get it right, and it's even more likely that international freshmen are not going to understand the rigors, pace and power of college soccer."
"I must've told them 3,000 times in the last year that 'it's a different game and we've got to get you ready for it. I think they panicked the first couple of weeks realizing how different it was, but frankly they've risen incredibly," Fannon said.
The Iowa State freshmen again looked to create offense in their matchup against South Dakota, attempting seven of the team's 13 total shots. Anna Lindgren led Iowa State with four shots including three on-goal. Despite having an eight shot advantage over the Coyotes, they weren't able to equalize the initial goal from Alexis Mitchell and dropped the match 1-0.
Iowa State returns to the pitch on Friday, when it travels to Morgantown, West Virginia, to take on the West Virginia Mountaineers in their opening Big 12 matchup. The game is set to kick off at 6 p.m.