(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – As far as the Montana State University Billings women’s soccer team is concerned, the tone has been set for a promising 2018 campaign.
Cruising through their preseason schedule over the last two weeks, the Yellowjackets won all three of their exhibition contests in decisive fashion and combined to out-score their opponents 11-2. The year started with a loud 5-1 win over Rocky on Aug. 17, before a 3-1 win over Carroll three days later that settled last year’s loss to the Saints during the regular season. On Sunday, the team picked up a shutout with a 3-0 victory over Yakima Valley College.
With the regular season kicking off this week, the ‘Jackets head into the 2018 campaign with an elevated sense of confidence. “We are definitely excited, and we have made huge strides in our style of play,” commented second-year head coach Stephen Cavallo. “There is good energy within the team, with strong leadership from our returning players and a great attitude and level of skill shown by our freshmen.”
The Yellowjackets were tabbed to finish seventh in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll released last week. After going 3-12-2 overall and 2-8-2 in the GNAC and taking seventh a season ago, MSUB is out to turn heads and make a jump up the standings in 2018.
If the preseason is any indication of what’s to come, there is plenty of room for optimism. “The results we have had so far have built a lot of confidence within the team, and you can really see that in the way we are training,” said Cavallo. “We have added a lot to our attack with 11 goals in three games, but still need to fine-tune a couple of things. The level of play has been high in the preseason, and it is our responsibility to now take that into counting games and GNAC games.”
MSUB takes on Colorado Christian University on Thursday at 1 p.m. at Trailblazer Stadium in Lakewood, Colorado, in the first game of the year. The ‘Jackets also play Wayne State College at 11 a.m. on Saturday. MSUB is 2-3 all-time against CCU, and will look to avenge losses to the Cougars in both the 2016 and 2017 seasons on Friday. Saturday will mark the first meeting between MSUB and Wayne State since Sept. 7, 2002, when the ‘Jackets claimed a 2-1 win in double-overtime in Billings.
Fourth-year seniors Jordan Devoto and Lili Delgadillo bring the most experience back to the squad, and a cast of seven juniors and three sophomores also provides the team with leadership.
Devoto is a forward from Wilsall, Montana, who has contributed four goals and two assists while playing in 37 games her first three years with the ‘Jackets. She had a productive preseason, notching an assist in each game with effective play up top. “Jordan has that remarkable story of growth from her freshman to senior year, and she has been a great, positive leader for the younger players,” Cavallo commented on the senior captain, who played just 15 minutes as a freshman in 2015 before starting all 17 games last year. “Her game has improved even through this preseason, and she has shown a lot of confidence on the ball and with her decision making.”
The ‘Jackets also return their top scorer from a season ago, in junior Alexa Iacolucci. The central midfielder scored five goals and chipped in a pair of assists en route to earning honorable mention all-GNAC in 2017, and has already begun building on the strong season with two goals in MSUB’s exhibition matches. “Alexa is an incredibly skilled player who has the ability to play the long ball and who is a really good striker and passer of the ball,” said Cavallo. “She is part of that junior class that has all been through the GNAC for two seasons and knows what it takes to be good in this league.”
Iacolucci plays alongside junior Claire Tevaseu, who has started 27 matches in her first two seasons in the program. The duo of holding midfielders is directly in front of an experienced back line, featuring juniors Amanda Hemmen and Kalin Sandow in the middle, and Courteney Shovlin at outside back.
Hemmen is in her second year as team captain, and has started 29 matches including all 17 during an honorable mention all-GNAC year in 2016. Sandow returns after leading the team with 1,497 minutes played in her sophomore season, and Shovlin was close behind at 1,241 minutes. Fellow juniors Erin Reynolds and Rachel Lythgoe also bring two years of varsity experience to the defensive and midfield core.
“Amanda and Kalin offer a great one-two punch defensively and complement each other very well as our center backs,” Cavallo said. “Courteney has done a great job the last two years at outside back, and both Rachel and Erin have made strides from their freshman years and will give us great depth.”
Earning starts in all three exhibition matches at outside back was true freshman Theodora Hjaltadottir, who will play a key role in her first collegiate season. The Reykjavik, Iceland, native will work well with the rest of MSUB’s established defensive unit. “Thea is an intelligent player who definitely gets after it and is not afraid to get stuck in,” Cavallo said. “She is good at getting forward and has a hard-nosed mentality.”
MSUB’s midfield will be further bolstered by the presence of sophomore Hallie Vervair who gained valuable experience with 17 starts as a true freshman in 2017. New to the midfield this season are Haylee Gunter and Emily Gaines, who are also expected to be major facilitators in the attack. “Hallie will give us strong depth, and she has the ability to play on both sides of the ball,” Cavallo commented. “Our two freshmen Haylee and Emily bring a lot of skill and creativity to the midfield unit as well.”
Delgadillo, sophomore Erinn Harder, and freshman Abby Hamilton comprise this season’s goalkeeping corps for the ‘Jackets. Harder played the majority of the minutes last fall, starting 13 matches and racking up 68 saves with a goals-against average of 1.72. Delgadillo has played in 25 matches in her three seasons, while holding a career 1.59 goals-against average and totaling 114 saves so far.
Perhaps the most exciting element of MSUB’s game this preseason has been the offensive unit, which has already scored nearly two-thirds of its goal total from last year (17) in three exhibition contests. In particular it has been a pair of new faces stealing the show up front, with freshmen Cassidy O’Dell and Julia Keller combining for seven goals and three assists in three games. Each player scored in every game of the preseason, with the two projecting as a powerful and much-needed boost to the offense.
“Julia just has that x-factor about her, and she is a very crafty player,” said Cavallo. “She is very strong on the ball, has great vision, and has a nose for goal. With Cassidy, she’s going to get the ball and go to goal. She is really dynamic, athletic, and has great finishing ability.”
Sophomore Amanda Grimshaw is another player who should contribute offensively, after she got her collegiate career started with a pair of goals in 2017. The Damascus, Oregon, native saw time in all 17 games as a freshman and will look to build on her 633 minutes played with an accelerated role this fall.
Getting on the score sheet in her very first collegiate exhibition match was freshman Lexie Bloyder, who also figures to fit into the picture as a forward. The Billings native will compete for minutes, along with fellow freshmen Lindsey Meyer and Josie Corbin in the midfield.
Returning to the coaching staff for her second season is assistant coach Sarah Leiby. “Sarah got her C license over the summer and gained a wealth of knowledge throughout that course,” Cavallo commented on his assistant. “She sets a high standard within the group of how to carry oneself, and she has been a great role model for the team.”
MSUB makes its 2018 home debut with the fifth-annual Rimrock Classic in memory of Trevor Wildberger, running Sept. 6-8 at Yellowjacket Field. After this weekend, MSUB’s non-conference opponents include the University of Nebraska Kearney, Black Hills State University, and the University of Providence before conference play begins.
The 12-game GNAC schedule runs Sept. 15-Oct. 27, with the ‘Jackets eyeing a top-four finish to reach the GNAC Championships. “We have laid a great foundation early on in the year, and the goal is to improve from here,” said Cavallo. “The preseason has helped us believe in ourselves as individuals, and as a team that is what we are trying to achieve. We have great chemistry on and off the field, and we want to harness that and keep it going.”