45-23-9 (.643) mark over past four seasons
2014 record: 11-4-4 overall, 5-1-1 Iowa Conference (second place)
Starters lost: 5 (MF Emily Benson, D Liz Daniels, MF/F Abby Hillmer, F Brittany Hinton, MF/F Emily Saville)
Starters returning: 6 (MF Kalee Findlay, F Kallie Holte, GK Sydney Lunardi, MF/F Anissa Stanitzek, D/MF Kayla Sunvold, D Rachel Verhun)
Letterwinners lost/returning: 8/16
Returning all-conference players: 1 (first team – GK Sydney Lunardi;; honorable mention – D/MF Kayla Sunvold)
2015 co-captains: Sydney Lunardi, Kelsey Roxworthy, Annie Weaver
Despite graduating the winningest class in school history, the steady rise to the top under coach Mike Kobylinski should continue for the Central College women’s soccer team.
Last year’s senior class, the first to play all four years for Kobylinski, was also the first to achieve 10 wins in every season. The Dutch went 11-4-4 to finish second in the Iowa Conference last year and Kobylinski was named conference coach of the year. If it wasn’t for a heart-breaking loss in sudden death penalty kicks in the conference title game, they would have been the first team in program history to qualify for the NCAA Division III tournament. The team also finished the season No. 8 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America North Region rankings, the best in program history.
Even after losing much of last year’s star power from that productive class, the Dutch are ready to take a step forward in 2015. What this year’s team may lack in proven stars, it makes up for it with depth all around the pitch and a promising freshman class.
“Our biggest strength this year will be our flexibility and depth,” Kobylinski said. “We go two positions deep at each field position and at goalkeeper. We have the flexibility to sub people in and not lose a step. We will be very young this year but just because we are young doesn’t mean we can’t be quality and disciplined.”
The defense should factor heavily in the team’s success. Several key cogs return from last year’s team that held opponents to a school-record 12 goals, including all three goalkeepers.
Offensively, even with the loss of players responsible for 24 of the team’s 35 goals in 2014, there are several young goal scorers ready to make an impact.
“We have always been a top three team in the league on defense,” Kobylinski said. “From goalkeeper on up is how we build our team. I think people will be surprised by some of the attackers we have returning and the attackers we brought in.”
This year’s team will benefit from its spring break trip to Germany and the Netherlands last March, where are a majority of the team spent a week training and competing against high-level European competition.
"To visit the Netherlands and Germany with the women's and men's teams was a phenomenal experience,” Kobylinski said. “The women went 2-0-1 there and we found out more about our team against some high-quality opponents. We hope some of the lessons learned there in training, matches and everyday life will carry over to the fall and years beyond."
The Dutch are once again awash with options in net as they return all three goalkeepers from last season. The unit is led by first-team all-conference selection and tri-captain Sydney Lunardi. The junior started all 19 games a year ago to earn an 11-4-4 record with seven shutouts and 95 saves.
“Sydney has done a great job for us the past two years,” Kobylinski said. “She’s been recognized as a first team all-conference performer the past two years and we don’t plan on that stopping. She has really progressed with her command in the box and game management in critical parts of the match.”
Classmate Savana Robinson will continue to push Lunardi this season. In 217 minutes in net last season, Robinson allowed just one goal, made five saves, and helped earn five shutouts.
“Sydney is obviously a great goalie, but Savana is, too, and she really pushes Sydney,” Kobylinski said. “I think that healthy competition brings out the best in both of them. Savana has worked hard on her craft this off season. Our goalkeeping team definitely makes each other the best they can be.”
Sophomore Sadie Jones earned a varsity letter as a freshman and will look to continue improving this season.
In the defensive backfield, Central moves forward without mainstay and NSCAA All-Region third team performer Liz Daniels, who started a record 73 games at Central. The Dutch will need someone to step in and fill Daniels’ role of defensive leader and Kobylinski believes he has two very capable options.
“Losing Liz is going to be tough,” he said. “The nice thing is that we’ve got some younger players who are going to do great. (Junior) Kelsey Roxworthy and (sophomore) Rachel Verhun are the returners that are going to step in and do a good job.”
Roxworthy, a tri-captain this year, has played in 36 games in her first two seasons with the program. Verhun started all 19 games of her freshman season.
“Kelsey was our most improved player last year and really showed well during the conference tournament and also in Europe,” Kobylinski said. “She is an old-school leader and is well respected by her teammates. Rachel was our newcomer of the year last year and made tremendous strides during the year. They both work well together.”
Sophomore Jackie Sunderman, who came on as a sub in 11 games last season, will likely see more time. Sunderman’s classmate Kayla Dowell could be a difference-maker if she can bounce back from the injury that robbed her of her freshman season.
“Not a lot of people know about Jackie or Kayla,” Kobylinski said. “Both of them are powerful, strong outside backs who are good man markers. It’s going to take someone special to get around them. Certainly, both of them have been working on their craft and really trying hard to earn a spot. They both worked well together in the back line in Europe this spring”
Amanda Rodriguez is another sophomore who was hampered by injury as a freshman and will look to improve this year.
Kobylinski will need to replace four graduated seniors in the midfield, including the program’s all-time assist leader, Brittany Hinton.
“Brittany was our spark plug, a lot of our attack came through her,” he said. “In addition to Brittany we lose Emily Benson, Jackie Bell, and Kayla Johnson. That core of midfielders did wonders for our team.”
A defensive stalwart the last two seasons, junior Kayla Sunvold will make to her way up the field more often to provide offense in 2015. She scored one goal last season and has just three in her career, but Kobylinski said Sunvold should prove to be a weapon.
“I think with Kayla, putting her in the midfield is something she’s really grasping on to,” Kobylinski said. “I think she’ll be a true number 10 (secondary scorer) sitting underneath the striker where she’ll have the freedom to do what she does best. This change allows her to use her talents and hopefully get some more goals and assists. We saw a glimpse of this in Europe where she was one of our most dangerous attackers.”
Senior tri-captain Annie Weaver returned to the program last season after leaving Central as a sophomore. She appeared in 17 games as a sub a year ago and was voted a team captain this offseason. She is flexible in her positioning and could play both midfield and defense.
“We’re trying to figure out whether she’s better as a holding midfielder with her size and athleticism or at outside back where she played as a freshman and a little bit last year,” Kobylinski said. “Her leadership, attitude and work rate is outstanding."
In starting all 19 games last season, junior Anissa Stanitzek found the back of the net three times and added an assist as well. Stanitzek, who recently tied for the fastest 40-yard dash in school history, will provide an abundance of athleticism at the position.
“Anissa is very athletic,” Kobylinski said. “She’s turning into a better soccer player and she’ll be hungry this season.”
Kalee Findlay started every game during her freshman campaign and is in position to do the same as a sophomore. Findlay produced just three points on one goal and an assist, but Kobylinski says her value goes beyond measurable statistics.
“Kalee came in and started every game as a freshman as a holding midfielder,” he said. “She is a tireless worker, who has a great touch on the ball and good vision. She worked well in Europe in front of the two center backs. I'm excited to see how she has improved since year one."
Felicia Roppe subbed in all 19 games a year ago and managed to connect for goals twice, a role Kobylinski says he would love her to reprise this season.
“Felicia gave us some solid minutes on the outside last year and we’re hoping she can do the same this year,” he said.
Rounding out the returners in the midfield is sophomore Sam Moss, who subbed into six games last season.
The Dutch will need to replace nearly all of their offensive firepower, including last year’s leader in points Emily Saville.. The team’s leader in assists last season with five, sophomore forward Kallie Holte will look to provide some offensive firepower and hopefully add to her goal total from last season.
“Kallie was a prolific goal scorer in high school in Missouri,” Kobylinski said. “She was one of the top scorers in the state, scoring over 100 goals in her career. She’s finding out that the transition to college is a little difficult. She’s working hard and I am confident she will have some tremendous goals in her this year as well as assists.”
Senior Rachel Schmidt and sophomore Huma Liptak provide additional depth at the point of attack for Central’s offense. Schmidt and Liptak are two very different players who provide unique strengths.
“Rachel Schmidt brings some good size and athleticism up front,” Kobylinski said. “She’s more of a hold-up player, but also has great vision and can disrupt the back line well. Huma Liptak is more of a speedster. We like to stick her up top and have her run at people.”
This year’s freshman class features 11 student-athletes from Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, and Missouri. The newcomers will need to step in and provide depth at every position.
“We’re really excited about our freshman class,” Kobylinski said. “We have 11 coming in this year and I think they can help us from goalkeeper all the way up to forward. This year we really identified getting talent and speed on the flanks and up top. They are hungry to make a contribution to this program.”
The Central coaching staff includes assistant coaches Katelin Gannon and Russ Goodman. Gannon was named the 2012 NSCAA Midwest Region assistant coach of the year and has been at Central since 2009. Goodman, who works primarily with the goalkeepers, has been with Central since 2011 after previously being on staff from 2001-07.
“If I don’t have them than we’re not competing and winning as many games as we are,” Kobylinski said. “We’re going in to season five together now and we’ve proven to work together well. I think it’s a nice three-headed monster we have going.”
Central will start its 17-game schedule with a stretch of four non-conference games in eight days. In years past, those games would be played on the road but thanks to the program’s recent success, Central will get an opportunity to stay home more often.
“This is the first time in my career that we are starting off with home games,” Kobylinski said. “It’s nice to finally be able play in front of our home fans at the start of a season.”
That four-game stretch includes dates with traditional soccer powers like North Central (Ill.) and Alma (Mich.), both top teams in their respective regions. Other non-conference fixtures include trips to play NCAA semi-finalist Illinois Wesleyan and NCAA qualifier Wis.-Oshkosh.
“We’re excited to get some good teams at home and show them our best,” Kobylinski said. “I think this is definitely the toughest schedule in Central College history.”
A year removed from taking second place in the conference, the best finish in school history, Kobylinski believes the league race will once again by hotly contested.
“It’s as competitive as ever; I don’t know that there is a favorite,” he said. “Every team on any given day can win. Like a lot of other sports in the Iowa Conference, you’ve got to bring your A-game every day. I think you’ll see a lot of close, one-goal games this year. There are a lot of good teams, like Dubuque, Loras, and Wartburg, and we want to be in that mix, too.”
A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex field
Central’s field has undergone a series of renovations over the last four years. The hillside has been transformed with the addition of new stadium seating. The fences surrounding the field are lined with Under Armour windscreens and there are new shelters for both teams.
“I think our hillside seating project is awesome,” Kobylinski said. “We have one of the best complexes and pitches in the nation and that’s thanks to our facilities management crew. They do a phenomenal job and never get the credit they deserve.”