With 11 returners, women's soccer ready for 2016 campaign
McGahey talks team strengths, weaknesses
Following back-to-back six-win seasons, the Central Michigan women’s soccer team is looking to take the next step in 2016.
Ask head coach Peter McGahey and he’ll say it all comes down to one thing — leadership.
“Anytime you’re looking to raise the bar, you’re looking for leadership and for committed players who have a strong desire to raise their play,” McGahey said. “The evolution of the leadership by our players has been really good. (We've had) more time to understand the process that makes us successful on the field, in the classroom and in the community.”
The Chippewas return 11 players from a 2015 team that went 6-10-3 (5-5-1 Mid-American Conference) last season.
Returning is senior Eliza Van de Kerkhove, who led CMU in both shots (39) and shots on goal (22). Van de Kerkhove earned All-MAC Second Team honors.
Alongside Van de Kerkhove, CMU brings back four sophomores who made the All-MAC Freshman team in 2015.
Alexis Pelafas, Mary Carlson, Madison Pogarch and Zoie Reed all return after a season of significant game experience.
Last season, Pelafas led the Chippewas with four goals. Her eight points was tied for the team lead. The sophomore has already tied her goal total from a season ago during the first two games of 2016.
"We came together so much as a team in every single way," Pelafas said. "We push each other on and off the field and you feel it. You feel it from every person. The coaching has been outstanding and they are putting us where we need to be."
Pogarch finished the season with seven points on two goals and three assists.
Reed earned six shutouts in goal and finished with a 6-8-2 record. She collected 71 saves on the season and allowed a mere 1.25 goals per game.
Senior Kristen Knutson has been CMU's starter in goal to this point in the 2016 campaign. Through two games, the Minnesota native has allowed one goal on seven shots and has an undefeated record in net.
“We’re in a place where we have to keep working,” McGahey said. “Just because you made the All-MAC Freshman Team doesn’t mean you’re going to have the same role this season.”
Central Michigan heads home to play Youngstown State, Aug. 26, and Kansas State, Aug. 28.
McGahey said the heavy non-conference schedule will benefit his team heading into MAC play.
“You’re always looking to test yourself and explore yourself and go through some successes and adversities,” he said.
The Chippewas will travel to rival and 2015 MAC champion Western Michigan on Sept. 25. They will finish the season at Eastern Michigan on Oct. 27.
While the season can be a long journey, McGahey said he wants his team to take it one game at a time.
“We have to be a team that is defensively organized and defensively sharp day in and day out,” he said. “We then have the opportunity to create goals in multiple ways, which I think is really positive. If our defense carries for us, we’ll be in every game.”
McGahey said he wants his team to capitalize on more goal scoring chances this season. He believes they can with their ability to attack in transition.
The Chippewas scored 22 goals on 221 shots in 2015, while opponents combined to score 26 goals on 268 shots.
"We can be even better if we come out wanting more and coming out even stronger than the last game," Pelafas said. "We have to focus on each game and each moment while staying strong."
McGahey pointed to team speed and depth across all three lines as CMU’s top strengths.
One thing McGahey doesn’t want his squad to do is play to the strengths of opponents. He said he hasn’t watched much film of opponents because he wants his team to play its game and dictate the tempo.
“We’re trying to put in our identity, style and way of playing," he said. "We’re going to control the controllable. If you’re trying to change the sails to the winds in game one, you’re going to have a problem.”