Expectations are sky high for the Northwestern State soccer team, as the team reported for camp Thursday morning.
NSU returns 14 players from last year’s squad that swept the conference titles, winning both the regular season and conference tournament crowns.
Of those who return are reigning All-Louisiana and Southland Conference Player of the Year Olivia Draguicevich and three-time SLC Defender of the Year Nicole Henry.
After deciding to come back for a fifth season, this report day means a little more to Henry.
“This report day is a little more special because last year we won, so there is a lot of pressure to win again this year. I’m really excited to do that again.”
Overall, three first team and three second team selections return for second-year head coach Stuart Gore.
“Last year, coming in, I just had about four weeks to figure everything out,” said Gore, who was hired in June of 2021. “Last year at report day, I came in not knowing everybody’s first name let alone their last name.
“We’ve got a great group coming back and this year, I feel like I have my ducks in a row.”
Gore led the team to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005 with a 1-0 victory against UIW on a Faith Adams’ first career goal in the 62nd minute of the SLC Tournament title game.
With that, the NSU coach knows that expectations have been raised, but is just focused on taking it one game at a time.
“I think you have to just focus on the first game,” Gore said. “You have to take it game-by-game and we have to go after it just like every other team in the Southland is going after it.”
Heading into her senior season, Draguicevich is in the top 10 for single game, season and career records in 14 categories, including goals and points, both of which she is in striking distance of breaking this season.
As a senior, Draguicevich is tasked with being more of a leader to 13 newcomers.
“I think we have to show each other the culture. A lot of people are transfers or incoming freshmen. We just have to show our culture and bond as a team to propel us into this upcoming season. We’ve had no problems meshing. We’re really excited.”
Paige Armstrong, one of the additions, had a decorated career at Colorado State transferring to NSU. The graduate student holds 11 school records at CSU and was a two-time First Team All-Mountain West selection.
Armstrong comes with her sister, Paige, who is a freshman on the team. The pair is one of four sets of sisters on the team. They join the Henrys (Nicole and Natalee), Spitzers (Taylor and Jessica) and Fernandezs (Emme’ and Sara). The Henrys and Spitzers are twins.
In addition to Nicole Henry and Draguicevich, the other returning first team All-Conference selection is defender Hallie Field, who has helped NSU form the top defense in the conference and is a two-time SLC First Team selection.
Natalee Henry, Caroline Hilliard and Delaney Wells are the second team selections who return.
NSU opens with an exhibition contest at home against Little Rock on Aug. 13 before beginning the regular season at Louisiana Tech on Aug. 21, which starts four consecutive road matches to start the season.
The squad begins the home portion of the schedule on Sept. 9 against Jackson State. The defense of the conference crown begins at home against UIW on Sept. 11.
The schedule all leads to the SLC Tournament, which takes place in Natchitoches for the first time since 2011. NSU aims to become the first team to win the conference tournament when hosting since NSU did it in 2005.
Photo: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services
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