Leadership, depth fuel Dragon soccer’s fire
by Thor Thompson
In past years, MSUM soccer was somewhat of an afterthought in the realm of Dragon athletics. This year, the team hopes their core group of veterans and a new crop of young players can put together a solid season to build on.
Senior goalkeeper Ashley Leintz is the unquestionable leader of the team and hopes to leave a lasting legacy after her final season as a Dragon, a season that started with her winning Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) Goalie of the Week honors.
“This year we kind of re-established the team and the soccer program in general, so just having a strong foundation going forward for upcoming years for more players in the future,” she said when talking about goals for the year.
Leintz has many qualities that her teammates say make her a leader.
“She just brings intensity. She’s had the same intensity since freshman year. [Now] that intensity and momentum has just expanded,” said junior forward Sienna Rebollozo.
“When she makes those big saves, it’s like, ‘now we need to step our game up,’” added senior forward Lindsey Micheletti.
With 12 upperclassmen, the Dragons will rely on the players that have been there before to get them over the hump and get to their ultimate goal, the playoffs. The key to getting them there is simple to Michelleti.
“We’ll just have to score more goals,” she said.
Rebollozo also shared what she thinks the key to their success will be this year.
“It has been a while since we’ve had a really good start to a season,” Rebollozo said. “So it’s just training hard and building chemistry.”
Chemistry seems to be key to what MSUM hopes to accomplish this year on the pitch as well. Rebollozo believes that going through the tough times together has created a bond as a team.
“There are quite a few of us that we’ve gone through the years together. We’ve had our ups and our downs together,” she said.
That bond is something the veterans will have to create with the younger players too, as the team sees its depth as another one of its strengths.
“That is one of the biggest improvements this year is that we can go to players that don’t start and they’re going to come out there and contribute just as much as the starters do,” said head coach Rollie Bulock.
Using those fresh legs to maintain pressure on other teams will also help to jump start the offense and create scoring chances on the counterattack. That’s where the newfound speed and depth up top will help MSUM as well.
“I feel like our forwards are really good. We have four forwards that are all around [solid],” said Rebollozo, who was on the receiving end of a through ball from Micheletti, to put in the game-winner against Northern State last weekend.
She added they traditionally like to work the ball inside out, and vice versa, to create space for those pacey players on the front line.
The team’s collective speed also adds some new wrinkles to their attack.
“It makes us more equal, we don’t have to force the ball down one side of the field. We can be more dynamic, go down the right or left,” Leintz said.
While the offense is looking strong, the team recognizes some things that they need to work on as well, including working younger players into key positions on defense.
“We do have some new freshman starting in the back line, so just incorporating them in with some of our veteran players,” said Leintz. “They have been doing really well and proving themselves back there, but that would be something that we’re improving on.”
The transition will be easier thanks to the experience and leadership behind them with Leintz, who leads the NSIC save percentage (.971) and saves per game (11.00).
The team sees this season as an opportunity to make strides as a program, and with so many experienced players they really want to make this a year to remember.
“Having an older team, we really want to be able to do well this year, it being our last year. So I’d say there’s a lot of passion this year,” Micheletti said.
With strong leadership and depth, MSUM will be in the mix this year for the NSIC playoffs and is currently in sixth place. The Dragons will look to continue their solid start against Wayne State and #3-ranked Augustana on the road this weekend.