CLAREMORE – After a five-win improvement in year one under head coach Scott Parkinson, the Rogers State women’s soccer program looks to take the next step in 2017 with a cast of newcomers to go along with some experienced returners.
“The sky is the limit for this group,” Parkinson said. “You can see it out there. They aren't fully there yet, and it may take time with this group to get them to where we want them to be and then we build from there. The expectation always is going to be to win a national championship from the program standpoint. This year is more about putting us on the road to that goal.”
Parkinson, who went 6-9-3 in his first season as the head coach, said team goals this year didn’t involve putting a number on wins and losses, but that will be sorted out with two key elements of the game.
“Honestly expectations this year: score more goals, concede less and then see where we end up,” Parkinson said. “I think if we do that, more often than not the record will reflect a better season.”
The Hillcats return nine players from the 2016 squad, including three of the top goal scorers. The group has helped changed the culture in Parkinson’s two seasons.
“I’m excited to have the nine newcomers back,” Parkinson said. “They understand our expectations, and how we want to build the program.”
Of the nine returning players, the navy and red will once again count on Lexi Ellingsen to make an impact. The senior started 16 matches and logged 1,402 minutes in her junior campaign and led the team in assists from her outside back position.
"Lexi Ellingsen has been named captain again this year along with one other captain,” Parkinson said. “We see her being on the pitch as much as possible. She understands the intensity we want to play with. She understands how to play with the ball. She does so much right on and off the field that she is like a shining light for the newcomers. She helps show them what we want as a school and as a coaching staff. We are going to put a lot of weight on her."
With a strong and deep recruiting class, the Hillcats expect some new faces to make an immediate impact during the 2017 season. The lineup projects to include many newcomers on the pitch to open the season.
"Right now today we've got 10 new starters” Parkinson said. “We think there are probably too many newcomers to name.”
The defense will be anchored by Ellingsen along with fellow captain Melissa Cardenas on the wings. In the middle of the defense, RSU will mix experience with youth as a freshman, Alex Wynn, and senior, Amanda Tewes, will see major minutes at center-back.
“Melissa Cardenas was named captain to join Lexi,” Parkinson said. “She is an outside back for us right now and plays similarly to Lexi. She can get up and down the field and press when we want to press. She delivers some good balls into the box.
“We have Amanda Tewes from Oregon State with tons of experience next to a freshman in Alex Wynn. Watching that relationship is pretty cool. They are helping each other out. I think that relationship will be good, especially to see how one of the experienced players does it.”
The Hillcats must replace some vital players from 2016 in the midfield due to graduation, including All-Heartland Conference selection Amanda Jones, and will rely on some youth along with some experience from transfers to apply pressure to the opposition. Depth at the position will allow the Hillcats to go two deep and alternate at the position.
“In the midfield we are very young. Three freshmen are going to make an impact,” Parkinson said. “Abigail Resendiz, a junior college transfers, and Daisy Cardona, based on where we play her. All six midfielders we are going to be used with how we want to play this year. We want to be on the front foot; we want to be energetic. We want to push people toward their own goal. It's impossible to do that with just three midfielders so we will keep them fresh and use them all.”
With the attacking style of play and added depth in 2017, the Hillcats will interchange two lines at the forward position as well.
“Right now we have six forwards that rotate: three in and three out,” Parkinson said. “That is up to the girls as to who will play longer and who will start. I think that will be a daily thing based on how they perform in training. What they have given us with pressing and with the ball. But you know they have all impressed us in the preseason.”
Parkinson will count in Daisy Cardona, a transfer from the University of Oklahoma, to create for the Hillcat offense. The senior led the Sooners in goals during her junior season, and she has posted tallies this preseason for the navy and red.
“I think Daisy has scored five goals in five preseason games and there's only one game where she hasn't scored, but she had an assist in that game,” Parkinson said. “We are looking to play her in an attacking midfield role. She is definitely someone to look for.”
After an opening weekend of nonconference games, the Hillcats gear up for Heartland Conference play in the second week of the season. RSU was picked to be one of the biggest movers in 2017 as the Cats were picked fourth in the Heartland Conference Preseason Poll.
"I think the Heartland Conference is going to be great,” Parkinson said. “I know we have improved. I think Texas A&M International has some really good players and are going to be better. Oklahoma Christian is a big unknown. They have a new coach that may freshen things up. Newman was really good last year. If he brings in good players, they are going to be good. St. Mary's and Lubbock are great. They are really, really solid. And then you have the two big dogs in Dallas Baptist and St. Edward's. Now we know St. Edward's has lost some big players, but they have a 40 women roster and everyone wants to play with them because they have been successful. They are always going to be good.
“I think it's going to be the toughest Heartland Conference in a long time for women's soccer. I think the Heartland Conference is going to be a tight one and go down to the wire.”
In the 2017 season, the Hillcats are looking to take the next step with a group that has sky-high potential.
“We don't fear anyone,” Parkinson said “Not one team in the whole country. Not even one inch of fear at all. On our day we can beat anyone.”
The Hillcats open the 2017 season on Aug. 31 when they host Northwestern Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. at Soldier Field.
For more information on RSU soccer, go to www.rsuhillcats.com.