Stafford says freshmen will continue to start, contribute to soccer team
Women’s soccer head coach Neil Stafford has expected freshmen to compete for starting spots since practice began and he hasn’t been let down.
Central Michigan has been starting young players since the first game against Detroit, where freshman defender Marissa Woodliff and freshman forward Danielle Rotheram took their places in the starting lineup.
Both remained starters against West Virginia, and Woodliff took the field at the start of the game against No. 6 Penn State.
“There was definitely a lot of pressure when I started that game. I’m still pretty new and still learning plays,” Woodliff said. “It was difficult, but as the game went on, I became more comfortable.”
In the second half of the game against Penn State, Stafford started freshman defender Emily Basten.
Although the Chippewas lost 5-0, they only allowed one goal in the second half.
“Emily did a great job in helping with that and playing her part,” Stafford said.
Five more freshmen also saw playing time in that game. Rotheram, Josie Seebeck and Christen Chiesa each contributed to the 21 shots taken by the Chippewas in the game.
So far, Stafford said he has not been disappointed with what’s he witnessed from the freshmen players.
This weekend against Dayton and Marquette, Stafford said he anticipates freshmen getting playing time and even starting.
“We have some impactful freshmen, who just need the experience and time. That’s why I was so bummed out about the Evansville game being called,” Stafford said. “It wasn’t just a game; it was valuable minutes for the freshmen. You can’t substitute the value kids get from game minutes to become a better player.”
Stafford pointed out freshman midfielder Ali Russo, who saw playing time in the Penn State game, as a player he’s been impressed with.
When she joined the team, she knew she would have to work hard to gain minutes on the field.
“I knew I had to earn it,” Russo said. “There are so many good players on the team already, so I just wasn’t expecting it. I hope to keep seeing playing time and keep up the level of play.”
The pressure will remain high for the freshmen class.
Stafford said he sent an email detailing his hopes for the freshmen this season.
“I wholeheartedly expect one of my players to compete for freshman of the year, a couple to be on the all-freshman team and to get to a point when at least a few of them are starting each game,” Stafford said. “This is Central Michigan and it’s what we expect.”
Woodliff said collegiate level soccer is faster and more physical, but the freshmen class will continue to adjust and improve.
“We want to continue to get better and minimize the mistakes we make, so not only is coach confident putting us in, but everyone else is confident in us as well,” Woodliff said.
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