Talented recruiting class fuels continued Central women’s soccer team rise
On the heels of another record-setting season in 2013, the Central college women’s soccer team is eyeing a move up the Iowa Conference standings in 2014.
At 12-6-2, the Dutch tied a program record last fall by matching their 2012 win total (12) and winning percentage (.650) en route to a fifth-place finish in the conference. Central’s 12-win campaign last season also marked the first time in program history that the Dutch have posted three consecutive winning seasons, having now gone 34-19-5 in three years under third-year head coach Mike Kobylinski. The Dutch also broke new ground by being among those receiving votes in the NSCAA North Region rankings for five weeks last year.
Central graduated five starters, including 2013 league offensive MVP Alayna Bailey and all-conference honorable mention honoree Gabbi Muse, but return six starters, including sophomore goalkeeper Sydney Lunardi, a first-team all-conference selection who was also named Central’s newcomer of the year.
“We lost a big senior class and it’s certainly a void that we’ll have to fill,” Kobylinski said. “But we return a phenomenal group of players and are bringing in 12 freshmen, which is the largest class that we’ve had in my time at Central and the deepest. The main theme of our team this year is depth. We’re planning to go two deep at every position we hope.”
Success has not only come on the pitch but in the classroom as well for the Dutch. For the second straight year, Central earned the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Team Academic Award. The Dutch compiled a 3.54 GPA, which tied for ninth among Division III institutions. In order to receive the award, teams must have a grade point average of 3.0 or higher (4.0 scale).
The Dutch have plenty of options in net as they return all three goalkeepers from last season, including first team all-conference selection Sydney Lunardi. The sophomore started 16 games in 2013, registering 10 wins and 99 saves. Lunardi finished second in the conference in save percentage (.805) and fifth in goals per game (1.51).
Sophomore Savana Robinson rounds out the list of Central’s goalkeepers. Robinson posted two wins in seven appearances in 2013.
“Savana did a great job last year when her number was called upon and was a good teammate,” Kobylinski said.
As a unit, the Dutch ranked second in the conference in 2013 in shutouts (10) and third in goals allowed (24) and saves (116).
“I am very confident in our goalkeeping corps,” Kobylinski said. “Sydney proved to be one of the best in the conference last season as a first team all-Iowa Conference selection and Savana brings great size, great tools and a great personality.”
The unit is bolstered by freshman Sadie Jones, who participated in the Iowa East/West High School All-Star game.
The Dutch graduated Molly Potts, Hannah Davy and Kelsey Schippers from their defense but return plenty of experience in senior Liz Daniels as well as junior Annie Weaver and sophomore Kelsey Roxworthy.
“We definitely have some voids to fill with the loss of Molly and Hannah, but we identified that with our recruiting process,” Kobylinski said. “We’ve got some great players returning and some incoming freshmen that will contribute. I think we’ll be solid again defensively. I’ve been happy with Annie and Kelsey’s progression in the spring in front of Liz, and Annie also has the ability to play at outside back as well.”
Two freshmen Kobylinski believes can make an impact are Rachel Verhun of Ann Arbor, Mich., and Jackie Sunderman of Pella.
“Jackie was an all-state defender and Rachel played on one of the best teams in Michigan,” Kobylinski said. “Rachel played for the Vardar Soccer club which is one of the best club teams in MI and anchored Ann Arbor Pioneer High School as a fantastic center back. She has also played outside back in club and will see time there.”
Meanwhile freshman Amanda Rodriguez from Grimes is a hard worker who can play outside back.
Central’s defensive effort in 2013 established a new program record with 10 shutouts while limiting opposing teams to an average of 1.20 goals per game, which ranked third in the conference.
A three-year letterwinner and 2012 all-conference honorable mention honoree, Daniels recorded six points on two goals and two assists last fall.
“The defense really starts with Liz,” Kobylinski said. “Liz is a player that really doesn’t get the credit that she deserves and she’s really the constant that holds it all together for the defense. In my mind, I feel that Liz is not only an all-conference defender but is good as anyone in the region.”
After converting from a midfielder and starting in all 20 games last year, sophomore Kayla Sunvold also returns to the backfield. Sunvold netted five points on two goals and an assist.
“Kayla is a phenomenal defender who started every game for us last year and is someone who I think is one of the best defenders in the league,” Kobylinski said. “Since she’s a converted midfielder, she may find herself back at center at some point this season at times as well.”
Central returns seniors Brittany Hinton and Emily Saville in the midfield. Hinton tied for second on the team with 19 points on seven goals and five assists in 19 starts last fall, while Saville totaled 12 points on five goals and two assists, ranking second in total shots with 26.
Tied for the program’s lead in career assists (16), Hinton had a career season in 2013, recording 10 points on seven goals and five assists, ranking eighth in the league in goals scored and total points.
“Brittany’s touch on the ball is one of the best I’ve seen in my time here,” Kobylinski said. “She does a phenomenal job as an attacking midfielder/withdrawn forward. Her vision is sublime and she knows how to thread the needle.”
A two-time academic all-conference selection, Saville also had a career year in 2013, posting 12 points on five goals and two assists in 17 appearances from a wide position.
“When Emily is on, she really brings it,” Kobylinski said. “From a leadership standpoint, Emily has brought so much to the program over the last year. Emily’s gone from not playing soccer her freshman year to being named second team all-Iowa Conference and being voted team captain, so that tells you a lot about her character. She also can play a multitude of positions.”
Also returning at midfield are seniors Emily Benson and Jackie Bell. Benson lettered for the first time in 2013, earning the team’s Most Improved Player Award after contributing nine points on two goals and five assists in 19 games. She was also ranked 10th in the league in assists per game (0.26). A former academic all-conference member and three-time letterwinner, Bell appeared in 18 games in 2013, registering one goal.
“We are hoping both Jackie and Emily can give us good service from the flank position and provide us with solid depth,” Kobylinski said.
Others contending for playing time include senior Kayla Johnson and sophomore Amanda Casson, who joined the Dutch last spring.
“We also have some great freshmen coming in that can help with our depth in midfield,” Kobylinski added. “Abby Hillmer was an all-state center midfielder as a junior from Hudson who has a great presence in the middle or behind the high front runner. Felicia Roppe from Council Bluffs was an all-district choice who was sought after by a lot of schools. She can play out wide or in the middle. Kalee Findlay is another freshman that can play in the middle or out wide. Sam Moss from Winterset was also an all-state player as a junior and can play in the midfield.”
The Dutch graduated one of the most prolific scorers in program history in Bailey. She tallied 19 goals and 41 points last fall and ranks second in career points (101) and goals (47).
Central ranked first in the league in goals per game (2.80) and second in points (149) and goals (56). Central also lost academic all-conference honoree Julie Wunder to graduation. Wunder, who ranked second in goals (eight) and points (19), combined with Bailey to register 60 points and 68 of the Dutch’s 167 shots on goal.
Junior Rachel Schmidt and sophomore Anissa Stanitzek played in 20 and 15 games, respectively, last season.
Schmidt was an academic all-conference member.
“Rachel is a converted forward from a center back and her size and touch is great,” Kobylinski said. “She has a knack for scoring, so I’m hoping that she flourishes this year.
“Anissa is one of the strongest and fastest female athletes that we have on campus. She has converted from an outside midfielder to a withdrawn forward, so we know that no one has seen that best of her yet. There is a reason a lot of schools were after her and I can’t wait to help develop her as an attacking player in this league.”
Kobylinski is also counting on contributions from some freshmen.
“Kallie Holte out of Kirksville, Mo., was one of the best strikers in the state, in my opinion, and she scored 123 goals in her career,” he said. “Now it’s our job to make sure that translates to college, but it was great landing her here as there were a lot of schools after her.”
Also getting a strong look will be freshmen Huma Liptak of Fairfield and Morgan Gardalen of Marshalltown.
“Huma has a big upside, I feel, and can play up top or out wide with her pace,” Kobylinski said. “She was top 10 in the state in scoring but more importantly her attitude is one of the best I’ve been around in recruiting. The same goes for Morgan Gardalen of Marshalltown, who was an all-conference performer and a good goal scorer. Morgan is small in stature but she gets after it and can score goals.”
The Central coaching staff is rounded out by assistant coaches Katelin Gannon and Russ Goodman. Gannon, was named the 2012 NSCAA Midwest Region assistant coach of the year.
“Katelin has done tremendous work with our players,” Kobylinski said. “She has brought so much to the team and so much understanding of the game to this program.”
Goodman begins his 12th season with the program, working primarily with the Dutch goalkeepers. During his tenure, Central goalies have earned all-Iowa Conference honors four times.
“Russ is a big reason why we have the solid goalkeeping that we do and why we continue have goalies receiving honors from the conference,” Kobylinski said. “With three staff members, we kind of see ourselves as a three-headed monster, which, if you train the players functionally, can be hard to face.”
A 17-game schedule that features eight home contests awaits the Dutch this fall. Central opens its home season with 2013 NCAA quarterfinalist Washington-St. Louis (Mo.) Sept. 1.
“We’re looking at facing some of the top schools in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference and the University Athletic Association, so it’s going to be a challenging non-conference schedule,” Kobylinski said. “It’s really a credit to this program and our athletes that we’re now able to get some of these quality programs on the schedule.”
A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex field
Fans attending the home opener will be greeted by a vast number of changes and updates to the game field. The hillside has been transformed with the addition of new stadium seating, and new team shelters will be in place along with Under Armour windscreens behind both benches.
“I think our facility is one of the best in the conference,” Kobylinski said. “I think even before all of these updates, our playing surface was one of the best in the region. We receive comments all the time from opposing teams on how great our surface is, and I think a big part of that is thanks to our facilities team. It does a phenomenal job with the upkeep of our field and with our facility as a whole. Being a Central graduate and former player of men’s coach Garry Laidlaw, I am ecstatic to see the fundraising efforts and hard work pay off.
“I am overjoyed to share these improvements with my mentor, who is also a phenomenal colleague.”
The Dutch went 4-2-2 on their home pitch in 2013 and have posted a 17-6-2 record at home in three seasons under Kobylinski.