The Northwestern State soccer program has checked off a lot of its goals in the past couple of seasons – turning the program into a championship contender and winning major individual Southland Conference awards.
About the only thing left is winning an SLC regular season and tournament championship.
That journey started Tuesday as new head coach Stu Gore opened fall camp with just 10 days to prepare before the Lady Demons take the field in an Aug. 14 exhibition at Little Rock.
“These players are super committed, and through talking with a lot of them in individual and group meetings – they are hungry,” said Gore, who has been an assistant at North Dakota and James Madison after taking Northwestern Ohio to four straight NAIA Final Fours, which included a 2016 national championship. “They know it won’t be easy and that a bunch of teams in our conference are thinking the same thing.
“But they know what it takes to win and that nobody will hand it to them.”
NSU has finished second in the SLC standings the past two seasons, advancing to the SLC Tournament Championship game in 2019 and falling in the quarters to eventual champion Southeastern on penalty kicks in 2020.
But 10 of 11 NSU starters return from a squad that went 9-3-2 this spring and broke a program record with six straight shutouts and nine overall.
The Lady Demons defense returns two-time Southland Conference Defender of the Year (Nicole Henry) and the reigning SLC Goalkeeper of the Year (Acelya Aydogmus) as well as players that scored all 15 goals this past spring.
“We’re all really excited, and we’re happy to have Stu and (associate head coach) Mel Sherwood here,” Henry said. “We’re aiming for a championship.
“We just need to bring what we had last year and keep doing what we’re doing. The coaching transition has gone really well, and they’ll have a big impact here.”
Gore has communicated with players via Zoom and other video conferencing platforms since accepting the head position in June, which has lessened the learning curve once he set foot on campus in July.
Face-to-face interaction has helped the players, too.
“There is a little bit of nerves with having a new coach, but it’s gone really well, and we’re glad and honored to have Stu lead this team,” said senior midfielder Kalee Williams. “We’re all super excited for this moment when preseason begins and getting back to August.
“No matter what’s thrown at us, this team will take it and say, ‘Let’s just do it.’ We believe a championship is coming.”
NSU opens the regular season Aug. 19 at Oral Roberts with its home opener Sept. 1 against Louisiana Tech.
The Lady Demons will compete as part of a seven-member Southland Conference this season.
NSU is the only current SLC member that’s finished in the top four in each of the past two seasons.
PHOTO: Matt Vines/NSU Sports Information
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