SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The women's soccer program will become the first Sacramento State team to compete during the 2017-18 academic year when the Hornets open the season with a home exhibition game this Friday against Pacific at 5 p.m.
The Hornets, who are led by 11th-year head coach and three-time Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year Randy Dedini, will play their lone exhibition on Friday before opening the regular season on the road with games at Saint Mary's (Aug. 18) and Nevada (Aug. 20).
Last year, Sacramento State won each of its final five regular season games to finish second in the Big Sky and qualify for the conference tournament as the No. 2 seed. The Hornets finished the year 6-2-2 in league, and the six Big Sky victories established a new program record. After receiving a bye in the first round of the tournament, the Hornets were edged in the semifinals by Northern Arizona, 3-2.
With the 2017 season on the horizon, Sacramento State will look to compensate for the loss of seven starters from a year ago, including 11 graduating seniors. The roster now features eight seniors, one junior, four sophomores and 10 freshmen, and the Hornets will attempt to win the Big Sky title and qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.
With the team in its second week of training, the Sacramento State media relations office sat down with Dedini to get his perspective on the season.
Q: You guys began training for the first time last Wednesday. It's still very early, but how has the team looked so far?
RD: Our team came in with a pretty good fitness level and they all look eager to work. We have a lot of work to do, so that was a good start.
Q: What do you foresee as some of the strengths for this year's team?
RD: This is a team that looks very dangerous offensively. We have some dynamic play makers and more than a few players capable of scoring goals.
Q: You lost seven starters from last year's team which finished second in the Big Sky. How do you anticipate compensating for those losses?
RD: Last season, our team was very deep off of the bench. Many of those players (coming off the bench) could have easily started for us, so it's more about learning which combination of players have chemistry together on the field. It's about next player up and who will elevate their game to the next level.
Q: Who will be your team captains, and talk about the importance of those players.
RD: Chelsea Arnold, Amanda Mielke, Andrea Boehm and Molly McConnell will serve as this year's team captains. They are a focused group of senior captains who have a strong desire to get back to win the Big Sky. Because of the large group of freshmen on this year's team, our captains will be crucial to our success because it's their job to set the standard on how we do things here and lead by example. They have already done a great job and I have a lot of faith in them.
Q: Of the 23 players on the roster, eight are seniors and 10 are freshmen, so you have some experience coming back mixed with a lot of youth. Talk about that mix a little bit and how it will relate to this season's team.
RD: I think it's an exciting mix of youth and veterans. Our captains and returners have done a great job bringing in the young players and making them feel welcome to our family. Our veterans are focused on returning to the Big Sky Tournament and they understand how to get there and the challenges we face. Our young players are excited and eager to contribute to the team any way they can. As long as our young players listen and follow the lead of our veterans, we will find ourselves in a good place at the end of the season.
Q: One of the strengths of last year's team was a defense that allowed just 1.16 goals per game. Three-fourths of your back line from last season's team does not return in 2017, including the Big Sky Defensive MVP Rachel Leonard. Do you consider that a concern or are you confident the team has players that can step in and fill those roles?
RD: Our back line will have big shoes to fill. The players who filled in for our seniors during the spring did an admirable job and they are working hard to build a good chemistry with each other. Losing a player and a leader like Rachel Leonard is never easy, but new players will step up and emerge as leaders for us.
Q: You have extremely good depth at goalkeeper. Talk about the comfort level you have with that position.
RD: This is possibly the best and deepest goalkeeper group we've had at Sacramento State. I have a lot of confidence in this group, and they will help stabilize and give confidence to our young back line. We've had a history of strong goalkeeping and it appears we will be in good hands for the next four or five years with this group.
Q: What are some of the goals you have set forth for the team?
RD: Our top goal is to win a Big Sky championship ring. We have many more goals that we will have to achieve to get there. First and foremost, we need to come together as a team and a family so that no matter what challenges we face, we know we have the strength of each other.
NOTES — Three of Sacramento State's seniors have changed their jersey numbers from a year ago, including McConnell (was #30, now wearing #1), Mielke (was #5, now wearing #3) and Kylee Smith (was #18, now wearing #8)…after the Hornets open the regular season with a pair of road games, the Hornets begin a season-long four-game homestand that stretches from Aug. 26-Sept. 8…the homestand includes an impressive array of opponents including Fresno State (Aug. 26), UNLV (Sept. 1), Texas (Sept. 3) and Cal (Sept. 8)…the Hornets will play a pair of doubleheaders with the Sacramento State men's teams this year, including Sept. 1 and Sept. 8.