VERMILLION — It’s taken a while, but the USD soccer team finally has a large contingent of upperclassmen.
By sheer numbers, the Coyotes (2-13-3 a year ago) are again a young team — with one senior (Jenny Teslow), 11 juniors, seven sophomores and six freshmen.
Most of those sophomores, though, played significant minutes last season, as have the juniors the previous two years (they were part of the 2011 roster that was the youngest in the nation).
“It’s nice this year to have a junior group that’s been here with us for two or three years,” said fourth-year head coach Mandy Green, whose team opens the season today (Friday) at home against Loyola (Ill.) at 4 p.m.
“We’ve tried to establish a culture of hard work and positive attitudes, so they know what we’re all about.”
It’s been a struggle the last few years for the Coyotes, who were 1-6-1 in the Summit League last fall. The combination of offense, with 18 goals, and defense, 44 goals allowed, didn’t allow much wiggle room last year.
The program, however, zeroed in on the defensive production over the off-season.
USD spent three months and one week out of its nearly four-month long spring session working on defensive drills, Green said.
“Our team goal is to allow the fewest goals in school history,” she said. The USD record is 22.
“We saw on tape from last year that when we were one on one (defensively), we were in better attacking shape,” she added. “We scored a lot more in the spring, so hopefully that keeps up.”
To help that offensive attack, USD returns five of the seven players who scored a goal last year. Teslow, a second team All-Summit League pick, led with five goals, followed by Danielle Anderson (So., 4), Teagan Eberle (So., 2), Lauren Bennett (Jr., 2) and Rebecca Sparkman (So., 1).
“This is a group that’s brought intensity already,” Green said. “It’s been a fun preseason for the coaches; we’ve been excited.”
As the program has continued to progress, so too have its recruiting classes.
Many of the six freshmen had other offers — Green calls them “great gets” — and the Coyotes are banking on their high-level experience to translate to the collegiate ranks.
Midfielder Jamie Karch (Germantown, Wis.) was one of the top players in Wisconsin and midfielder Meghan Mannix (Crystal Lake, Ill.) is listed on some top freshmen sites, according to Green.
The Coyotes also nabbed forward Corey Strang (Temecula, Calif.), who had other regional Division I offers. Strang scored twice in USD’s lone exhibition game, a 3-0 win over Viterbo (Wis.). A pair of other recruits ultimately chose Nebraska over USD, Green pointed out.
“It’s already been a fun group to work with,” Green said.
USD’s home schedule has also taken a step forward this year. The Coyotes will host Iowa State, College of Saint Mary, Northern Iowa, Drake, Denver (league newcomer), Western Illinois and IUPUI.
You can follow Jeremy Hoeck on Twitter at twitter.com/jhoeck