Friday night marked the beginning of the 20th season of Northern Illinois women’s soccer under first-year head coach John Ross as the team gathered for fitness testing at NIU Soccer and Track Complex.
The team began training sessions Saturday in preparations for its first exhibition match Wednesday night, Aug. 8, at Valparaiso.
With two sessions on Saturday, one on Sunday and a scrimmage Sunday night, Ross has liked what he’s seen from his team this fall thus far.
“The first few training sessions have been amazing,” Ross said. “The intensity of drills has been good and the girls have really gotten after it against each other. The work rate on off-the-ball runs has been high as well, so I’ve been very happy with what I’ve seen the first few days of practice.
Northern Illinois is looking to regain its form into the upper tier of the Mid-American Conference, where it finished with a winning percentage of .500 or better in three of the last five seasons, and again qualify for MAC postseason play. The team finished 2-15-2 last season and were ranked in the lower-third in the country in goals per game (0.370).
NIU last qualified for the postseason in 2010, when it took on Central Michigan in the quarterfinals, falling 2-1 to the eventual tournament champions and NCAA qualifier.
The Huskies usher in 2012 with 28 players on the roster, nine of which are new to this year’s roster.
Of NIU’s 28 players, 13 are upper classmen, including three seniors in Lauren Eberts (Pickerington, Ohio), Shelbi Johnson (Bolingbrook) and Nici Newquist (Sycamore). Eight incoming freshman bolster the roster with Florida transfer Kelsey Affolter (Maitland, Fla.) making up the final nine newcomers to the NIU locker room.
“With a big class of freshman coming in, there’s a lot of energy around camp but it’s still pretty raw so we’re redefining it but we’re shaping it very well,” said junior Courtney Ksiazek on fall camp.
Though only 11 players appear on the pitch at one time, the Huskies return 11 players with 10-or-more starts in 2011. NIU loses only full-time starter from last season in box-to-box midfielder Kelsey Passaglia, who appeared in 75 games for NIU in her career, including 70 starts.
“We know what the freshmen are going through in camp and we have a lot of girls with experience that all bring something different to the table. We’re ready to use our wisdom and pass it on to them,” said junior Corinne Frankenberg about the freshmen.
With 14 players (one redshirt sophomore) from 2010 returning to this year’s squad, the Huskies feel confident about capturing on the MAC’s top-eight spots for the conference tournament.
“We’re all very familiar with being in a leadership role,” Ksiazek added. “I think having prior experience with that and being where we have been, we’re ready to take it up another level and work hard. Our experience the last couple years has helped us a lot.”
The Huskies will take on the Crusaders Tuesday evening in Valparaiso, Ind., in a friendly match to kickoff their 20th season an NCAA affiliated program. Ironically enough, NIU started its first season in 1993 against Valparaiso, a 7-0 victory on Sept. 5 of that season. It is the oldest program in the Mid-American Conference, as Eastern Michigan and Toledo added programs in 1995.
Northern Illinois opens the regular season Friday, Aug. 17, at Drake and play its first home contest Saturday, Aug. 25, versus Illinois State. Admission and parking to all home matches is free to the public.
For more information on NIU women’s soccer and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.