Coming off its best season in its short school history, the Kansas State women’s soccer team has high hopes for the 2021 season. The team held its annual media day this past Friday at Buser Family Park, where the Collegian talked to head coach Mike Dibbini and a few players about their goals for the upcoming season.
Coach Dibbini has been with the program since its inception in 2016 and believes this could be the breakout year for his team.
“It’s been a major challenge when you start from the beginning to where we are now,” Dibbini said. “I think we’ve come a long way. … Continuing the momentum and the mentality that we had at the second half of the season last year. We knew how to win those close games, more cutting edge in those close games. I really feel if we continue that momentum that the sky’s the limit for this team.”
Coach Dibbini and many other players praised the depth this season’s team has, something the team hasn’t been fortunate to have in the past.
“I feel really good,” Dibbini said. “I feel like we have a really good group of ladies that really love the game and compete hard and have the mental edge that we’ve always been looking for. The depth is the biggest since we started the program five years ago.”
One big story ahead of the 2021 season is the return of midfielder Brookelynn Entz, who was drafted by Kansas City with the 38th overall pick. Entz chose to return to K-State before the draft but has high hopes for this roster.
“I thought the way we ended the season [was] on a really high note, and then I saw Dibinni getting these transfers in, getting a lot of good players in,” Entz said. “I think before anything happened on the field, I saw where this program is going and where this year can take us. I think I wanted to be a part of that. I’ve been here for all this time, doing all this work, and I think this is the season where it’s going to take off — and I didn’t want to miss that.”
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Dibinni brought in a pair of new coaches ahead of the 2021 season — Don Trentham and David Romay — who are helping the defense and goalkeepers, respectively.
“[Trentham] pushes us, he does not let us take any play off, which is what we need from a coach,” Aliyah El-Naggar, junior defender, said. “Then with coach David being the goalkeeper coach, just hearing both sides of how they want to coach us, it’s really cool because they both have different views on how to play the game.”
El-Naggar spoke of the team’s bonding as a factor in the team’s success going into this season.
“One of the biggest things is having that team connection and team bonding off the field,” El-Naggar said. “It’s one thing to bond on the field, but it’s another thing to be really close off the field, and with our team, I feel like we do a really good job of that.”
K-State felt the effects of COVID-19 on the season this past year, including limitations and scheduling conflicts. Junior midfielder Shae Turner says this season will be much better than last year.
“I’m super excited that we get to have a normal year with a normal 18 games … all the girls and all the new transfers,” Turner said. “The team looks really different from last fall. It’s just kind of in the back of my mind now. We’ve been doing this for a year and a half now, so it’s just kind of there and not really a big issue anymore.”
Turner and other team members praised the level of competition new incoming freshman and transfer players have brought to the team.
“All the transfers come from Power Five schools, so they have experience which is really awesome with Jesse [Loren], Roo [Yarnell-Williams] and Porter [List], so that’s really exciting,” Turner said. “The freshmen are integrating really well, and we got to know them a lot during the summer, so that was really fun.”
One question still up in the air for the 2021 season is the position of goalkeeper. Redshirt junior Rachel Harris missed the 2020 season because of an injury.
“It feels really good to be back out here practicing,” Harris said. “It’s still a day-by-day thing on how my knee is feeling, but it’s definitely nice to put on the gloves and put on the cleats and dive around.”
Harris’ injury led to sophomores Peyton Person and Alaina Werremeyer filling her spot past season.
“I think no matter who the starter is, you can’t be complacent in this position,” Harris said. “With our position, there’s only three of us here. We are the ‘GK Union,’ and we all do support each other. At the end of the day, you need to be the other person’s biggest supporter out there.”
Because of COVID-19, the team missed out on the Big 12 tournament for the first time after it was canceled. However, the team has even bigger goals this year.
“Obviously, we would’ve made the Big 12 tournament but didn’t get a chance to play in it because it didn’t happen. That’s been my goal since I got here, and I think we’re past that goal now,” Entz said. “I think that’s too low of a goal for us, especially this season. I want to make the NCAA tournament personally. I think that’s a very realistic goal. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t think we could do it.”
The season opens with an away exhibition match against South Dakota State on Aug. 12 before returning home for another exhibition match against Wyoming on Aug. 15.
The season officially begins at 7 p.m. on Aug. 19, when the Wildcats take on Weber State at Buser Family Park with broadcasting provided by ESPN+.