By Bud Denega, Sports Information Graduate Assistant
When the Northwestern State women’s soccer team takes to the pitch Wednesday night in Ruston, it will have been quite awhile since the last time the Lady Demons played. Due to the COVID-19 cancelation of the fall season, it will have been 451 days since their last match.
“We are very ready and very excited,” said co-head coach Jess Jobe. “We’ve been working, and the date has been scheduled and circled on the calendar for a long time. I don’t think it’s anything that we really have to ask of our players to be excited and to be enthusiastic about the competition. It’s a no-brainer. We are pumped.”
The date circled is a Feb. 3 matchup at Louisiana Tech. The game will take place at 6 p.m. at the Ruston Sports Complex.
NSU’s last competition occurred Nov. 10, 2019 in the Southland Conference title game. On that day, the Lady Demons came up just short of a conference crown and an NCAA tournament bid, falling to Lamar 3-1.
“It was a great experience, and in a lot of ways, it has been a boost of confidence,” Jobe said. “We’ve been there. We’ve been on that stage. We’ve got returning players who were in that experience and better for it.”
The experience, while beneficial, didn’t come without a certain amount of pain. The agony felt in that defeat will act as fuel for the Lady Demons in 2021.
“It’s something we don’t want to shy away from,” Jobe said. “We want to be reminded of the pain that day and that letdown. Our entire season accumulating to that one game and then falling just short. That’s a good reminder for us. We want to get back, and this time push through that finish line.”
Last season’s squad finished with a 13-8-1 overall record, which included an 8-2-1 mark in conference play. The Lady Demons won six of their final seven matches, four of those coming via shutout.
That’s a result of solid goalie play. Junior goalkeeper Acelya Aydogmus started 13 games in 2019, compiling a 7-5 record. She recorded six shutouts, which included both the quarterfinal and semifinal matches of the SLC Tournament, earning her All-Tournament honors.
“She has all the tools, and all she needs to be successful,” Jobe said. “The challenge for her is to take some ownership and command of the team and lead from the back. I’ve been really pleased with her. She’s been really sharp.”
Junior Nicole Henry more than helps out in the defensive third. She started all 22 games for the Lady Demons, scoring one goal, in 2019 and was named Southland Conference Defender of the Year.
Twin sister Natalee Henry joins Nicole Henry as a defensemen, a year after starting 20 of 22 matches. She tallied two goals, and for her efforts was named second-team All-Conference.
Sophomore Hallie Field rounds out the back three. She started all 22 games, netting one goal, and was a third-team All-SLC selection.
Alexis Weaver, as the lone senior on the roster, spearheads a talent-rich midfield unit. In 2019, she started 11 of the 16 games she appeared in, registering two assists.
Sophomore Samantha Hanking appeared in 20 games, starting 14 of them. She scored one goal and dished out two assists.
Junior Kalee Williams made 21 appearances and 20 starts in 2019. She boasted three goals, third best on the team, and one assist.
Sophomore Maddie Scott made 10 starts and 21 appearances. She logged one goal and one assist.
Fellow sophomore Jayme Haynes also made 10 starts with 15 appearances. She recorded two assists.
Sophomore forward Olivia Draguicevich leads a potent scoring attack after pacing the Lady Demons with six goals, four of which were game-winning, in 2019. She played in all 22 contests, starting eight of them.
Junior Jalen Donaldson ranked second on the team with four goals and two assists. She was named third-team All-Conference in a season that saw her start 18 of the 22 matches.
Junior Norma Trejo rounds out the frontline. She made 11 starts and 18 appearances after tallying a pair of goals and a pair of assists.
Those aforementioned players all made at least 10 starts in 2019, but many more contributed. And that’s an overarching theme ahead of the 2021 spring season.
The Lady Demons are deep. Jobe feels confident trotting most of his players out there. That notion will be advantageous during a season that not only involves COVID-19 but extends deep into April.
“The depth is tremendously important even with COVID not being in the picture,” Jobe said. “Our depth is something we are proud of. Every single one of them can make a case. Every single one of them has tremendous potential within this program. From top to bottom on this roster, the depth is gonna be something we utilize.”
After Wednesday’s road match in Ruston, the Lady Demons will travel to Monroe to battle ULM Saturday. That match is set to begin at 6 p.m. at Brown Stadium.
Photo Cutline: Jalen Donaldson handles the ball in a match against Louisiana Tech in Natchitoches.
Photo Credit: Chris Reich / NSU Photographic Services