Concluding its 2020-2021 home schedule on Saturday afternoon against Iowa State, the Kansas State soccer team hasn’t normally worried about matches counting in the spring — that is not the case this year.
In the fall, the NCAA made the decision to move all fall sport national championships to the spring, minus football. Individual conferences could then determine whether or not they would compete in the fall.
The Big 12 Conference allowed fall competition in soccer and volleyball, but there was a caveat to it. Matches played in the fall would only be played between Big 12 opponents, while non-conference matches would occur in the spring.
While both soccer and volleyball play matches in the spring to help develop on an individual level, the matches the teams normally play in don’t count towards their records. This year, all matches count.
For the K-State volleyball team, this was quite the big deal, as the matches in the spring would determine eligibility for the NCAA tournament — a feat the team did not accomplish. The soccer team though — finishing with a 3-6 conference record in the fall and sitting at seventh in the conference — did not have the extra pressure of making the NCAA tournament field.
“Knowing that we don’t have a chance to go to the NCAA tournament, coach [Dibbini] still uses this [spring season] as these games do still matter and they do count,” junior goalkeeper Rachel Harris said. “But we can still develop girls and get them minutes that they need that they may have not received in the fall. I think that’s crucial.”
In the fall, the Wildcats finished in seventh place — the highest finish in school history. Rattling off three wins in the last five games to close out the fall, including a near upset victory over No. 5 TCU, freshman goalkeeper Alaina Werremeyer said the team wants to make sure it continues to perform.
“There was an excitement around the end of last year. I think it’s finally clicked that we’re here to make a name for ourselves in the Big 12. Everyone’s just excited to do that,” Werremeyer said. “There’s a little bit of momentum going into it, but also a pride thing. We want to continue to perform like we did at the end of last season.”
Spring competition hasn’t been easy for the team as it lost six players from the fall roster to graduation and professional play.
Upon hearing his team would have to compete in the spring after these losses, head coach Mike Dibbini’s mind was racing.
“I had a lot of thoughts going through my mind,” Dibbini said. “The first was obviously what is my team makeup going to look like going into the spring with a bunch of our seniors choosing to graduate, slash, finish school and focus primarily on school. I was a little concerned, didn’t know which way to approach it.”
Even with those losses, the Wildcats gathered three transfers who could compete in the spring with the rest of the team.
“You know we have a lot of returning core players. We have a lot of transfers and incoming players that came in that semester,” Dibbini said. “But how quickly can we try to catch those players up to what we are doing, and the players that are returning that didn’t see as much playing time in the fall, how much did they learn to contribute this spring.”
Sophomore defender Aliyah El-Naggar is one of the transfers on the Wildcat roster this spring. Almost two weeks ago, El-Naggar netted the game-tying goal against Missouri to complete a two-goal comeback in the final 10 minutes for the Wildcats.
Two ties and one loss have been the result so far in this spring season as the Wildcats head down the final stretch. Despite everything the team went through, Dibbini said he is impressed with how the team has performed.
“We’ve had a lot of adversity, it’s been one of the most challenging years going from the fall into the spring,” Dibbini said. “We’ve made a lot of progress and we’re moving in the right direction. I really feel good. I have a lot of energy because of them. The more they become coachable, the more they buy in, the more energy we as a staff get from our team, it’s very noticeable. I’m liking the direction a lot, I’m just hoping to build off of this.”
K-State’s final home spring match against Iowa State is scheduled for a noon kick-off time on Saturday afternoon and can be seen on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.