Kansas State women’s soccer looks to continue the momentum built from last season to return to the Big 12 championship tournament for a second straight year. The task is no easy feat, but head coach Mike Dibbini has set a standard for success in his eighth year with the program. The Wildcat roster went through a lot of change as it entered the 2023 season.
The 2022 season concluded as one of the most successful years in the program’s existence, finishing the season 6-10-3. This season, the Wildcats look to overcome the loss of 13 seniors leaving the program, most notably its starting goalkeeper Alaina Werremeyer and forwards Kyler Goins and Caylee Thornhill.
Werremeyer ended her career holding the record for most career matches played in goal (42), starts in goal (41), minutes in goal, wins (11), saves (207) and shutouts (10). Her absence creates a major hole to fill.
Goins and Thornhill held together the Wildcat’s offensive attack, keeping tempo and pace on opposing defenses. Losing these core players from last year’s team is not easy to overcome, but it will usher in new opportunities for returning players.
Luckily for the Wildcats, last season helped ramp up first and second-year players into regular starters. Key returning pieces for the Wildcats include veteran and team captain defender Aliyah El-Naggar, defender Jazmin Brown, forward Riley Baker, defender Kenzi Gillispie and forward Maddie Weichel.
“We lost 13 seniors so they feel that their [second and third-year players] ability to blossom has arrived,” Dibbini said. “Being a young team, I think they have no choice really. So they learned a lot last year and they grew up pretty quick.”
Dibbini doesn’t shy away from giving young talent starting minutes. With 17 new faces on the roster, it becomes increasingly important for veteran players to provide guidance to help elevate rookie players.
“We got to stay humble and understand that there’s no easy match,” Dibbini said. “Every match, we have to bring the same standard of play. The depth is going to help that, our training environment is going to help that.”
A major strength for the Wildcats entering the season is the experience on the defensive front of the team. Brown, Gillispie and El-Naggar all play a crucial role in team defense and will look to be the anchor for the team to lean on.
The turnover from last year’s roster left plenty of roles to be filled for new players. One of the largest additions from the offseason was goalie Murphy Sheaff, a transfer from Jacksonville and a previous player for the New Zealand national team.
“She’s very confident,” Dibbini said. “Playing at a high level with the New Zealand national team, she’s gained some valuable experience. Her presence and her confidence in the goal gives the players in front of her confidence in organizing and keeping us in the game.”
Alongside Sheaff is freshman forward Rilyn Rintoul, who made her presence known in her second start of the season against Northwestern, recording a team-high six shot attempts. Other valuable depth pieces include transfer Kiran Singh and Jo Sees, on top of 10 additional freshmen.
Entering the 2023 season the Wildcats will have to face off against new competition with the expansion of the Big 12. Cincinnati, BYU and Houston will provide competition for a program on the rise.
K-State was picked to finish 12th in the Big 12 in preseason polling, only in front of Cincinnati and Iowa State. New additions to the team may leave some skeptical of their overall success.
Despite this, Dibbini has put the pieces into place to build a potentially competitive soccer team. Only time will tell how far they can grow and develop as they strive to return to the Big 12 Championship tournament.