Talent, leadership, sacrifice, team chemistry, coaching, timing: all these and more factor in to successful intercollegiate athletics campaigns. Watching the 2015 Hesston College women’s soccer season unfold, it’s clear the Larks possess many of these coveted traits.
The last few months have witnessed a record-breaking season filled with numerous individual feats. Having already established new marks for single-season wins and shutouts, the Larks are shattering major individual records left and right as the year moves into the home stretch. Long after this season concludes, Hesston fans will remember the 2015 Hesston College women’s soccer team.
Digging a little deeper reveals several instances of, for the betterment of the team, players becoming something they were not. A defender making a move to the offensive side of the field here, a field player making the transition to keeper there, and the net effect is a team whose players have been willing to lose their previous soccer identity in order to gain what any competitive team wants most: a successful season.
Reviewing results from a preseason Myers Briggs personality test he’d given his players, Hesston head coach Bryan Kehr was taken aback at what seemed to be a roster imbedded with an inordinate amount of raw leadership skills. Kehr was excited. Perhaps the Larks were in for a special season, he thought.
A special season, indeed.
The momentum started with a 2-0 blanking of Region VI foe Cowley College on Aug. 22. Three matches in and the Larks were 3-0. As the season reached its midpoint, several team and individual marks had fallen.
Freshman midfielder Mika Matsuda, Kyoto, Japan, surpassed the career assist record with her 13th helper in a 6-2 win over Northwest Kansas Tech on Sept. 15, and remains among the national leaders in that category. Five days later, a 3-2 win on over sister institution Goshen (Ind.) College JV gave the program 39 goals, eclipsing the 37 goals scored by Kehr’s 2012 team.
On the receiving end of several of Matsuda’s assists was sophomore forward Mikaela Zook, Millersburg, Ind., a converted defender, who has flourished in her new role. Zook’s prodigious scoring, including a pair of four-goal matches, places her atop the Hesston annals as the all-time career scoring leader with 26 (and counting) goals. With one regular season game remaining, Zook is tied for sixth nationally with 21 goals this season.
On the defensive end, sophomore goal keeper Jaymee Bowers, Goshen, Ind., new to the net, has used her athleticism and willingness to learn to help power the Larks’ defense to a program-best eight shutouts.
The Larks’ team chemistry is perhaps best encapsulated by sophomore defender Enneliese Alcantar, Garden City, Kan., known affectionately by her teammates as “Chief.” Alcantar epitomizes a selfless team-first mentality central to this story. Her passion for the game and motivation to play for her teammates is helping push the program to new heights.
“Anyone who knows our team knows you can’t talk about our success without mentioning Chief,” Kehr said. “We’ve had a ton of positive leaders who have been willing to step up in a variety of roles, and it’s been gratifying to watch our kids buy in and compete for each other.”
“Several of the sophomores made it clear at the beginning of the season that this team would be united and we would play for each other,” said Meredith Spicher, Belleville, Pa., a converted high school field hockey player whose school didn’t offer girls soccer. “It’s been awesome to celebrate each others successes, which was one of the underlying goals Chief and the other leaders put in place at the beginning.”
Hesston Women’s Soccer reached a milestone on Oct. 3 with its 7-1 drubbing of Garden City (Kan.) CC, earning the program’s ninth win of the season, tying a club mark with nearly half of the schedule remaining. Since then, the Larks have won five more matches, treating its fans along the way to a perfect 9-0 home record.
Hesston’s win on Sophomore Night, Oct. 17, served as a recap of what the season has been all about. Scoreless at halftime, the Larks came out on a mission in the final 45 minutes, scoring five times to win going away. Five different players found the back of the net. Matsuda racked up three assists. Bowers, Alcantar and company gave another gutsy effort in the shutout. The Larks came together, like they had all year, to accomplish the task at hand.
After the match, emotion and smiles were everywhere. A perfect home record. Great relationships formed. Sacrifices made. Lessons learned. A special season, indeed.
The Larks are winning in all the ways in which a small, liberal arts athletics program wants, and needs, to win. They’re playing with passion, they field a competitive roster, they support each other and they’ve embraced the concept of team play. This team has received an education on how a community can come together to do great things.
“For a coach at a small, Christian school, the developing stories within the season are what it’s all about,” Kehr said. “This is what we hope for at the start of any new season. I expect our kids will always remember the impact they had on each other in 2015.”