Colorado States’ women’s soccer team showed the most mature attack Ram fans have witnessed in two years of CSU soccer last weekend in a 1-0 shutout over Air Force and a 3-2 loss to Colorado College in a true back-and-forth battle with the perennial national power.
A main reason for the recent improvements of CSU soccer’s attack is freshman forward Janelle Stone. In her first year as a Ram, Stone has found herself leading her team in assists, owning three of the six total assists CSU has recorded as this season.
The freshman was unsure she even wanted to play collegiate soccer before deciding to become the to become a Ram, though.
After finishing her high school career at Kamehameha School in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she helped lead her team to a state championship as a sophomore, Stone was recruited late last spring by Colorado State after she attended a team camp and was offered a spot on the team.
“I didn’t have real plans to play soccer in college, actually, and I was on the line whether to play or not,” Stone said. “But I’m so glad I made the decision to play.”
The Rams were glad, too, when Stone dished her first assist in their second match of the season against Northern Colorado to Gianna Bertana in the 87th minute for a 1-0 win.
Since then, CSU hinged its attack on the freshman’s specialty: the cross from the left side of the field right in front of the net.
“She has an unbelievable left leg,” Colorado State head coach Bill Hempen said after Stone’s second assist of the season, another connection with Bertana in the Rams’ 1-0 shutout over Air Force Friday.
The left-footed Stone has always played on the left side, but not as a forward, where she is playing this year. Stone said she played mostly defender and some left-midfield in high school.
“When I talked to Coach Hempen originally, he didn’t even have a set position for me to play,” Stone said. He simply told her ‘you’ll play somewhere on the left.'”
The defender-turned-forward has adjusted to her new position quickly, though.
“She is a super hard worker, and really fit,” CSU junior defender Megan Speed said of Stone. “Everyone has enjoyed having her at the top.”
In CSU’s match against Colorado College on Sunday, Stone established herself as a confident playmaker, and the Stone-to-Bertana connection as a legitimate consistent threat for CSU.
The freshman served up no less than four beautiful crosses from the left throughout the match, all of which created Ram shooting opportunities and one of which earned Stone her third assist on the season.
In the 78th minute against the Tigers, Stone crossed a ball from the left side to Bertana in the middle, who got her head on the ball for a game-tying goal.
Not even two minutes later, Stone set up what would have been the go-ahead goal with yet another cross to Bertana on almost the same play from the left side, but the Tigers’ goalkeeper saved Bertana’s shot.
“When we first started off (this season), we played really simple,” Stone said. “Now we have a lot more combinations going on, like interchanges at the top. I think our goals are going to develop more and more complexly because we’re practicing more complex situations.”
“I feel like the attack has always been our weakness,” Speed confirmed. But as a defender, Speed said she feels relief in finally seeing the Rams’ attack come together to take pressure off the defense.
The connection between Stone and Bertana is an offensive threat Speed said should be built upon over the rest of the season as well as next year.
“Those two work well together,” Speed said.
Though she currently leads her team in assists as a freshman, Stone believes she can create even better scoring opportunities for teammates and mostly credits Bertana for finishing her plays this season.
“(My assists) show anything can happen when you place the ball in the middle of the field in front of the goal,” Stone said. “If you find the player to get onto that ball, it’s a goal. Gianna is a very scrappy player She can get the ball in any situation. She just has that mindset to score, and will do anything to get that ball in the back of the net.”
Both Stone and Bertana, a junior, will return along with Speed next year.
“The fact that we have already improved so much in just two years, I’m really excited to see what’s in store for us next year,” Stone admitted. “With our offensive line starting to get a connection, I think it’s only going to get better.”
The next chance for CSU’s attack to build upon Stone boots into the middle for Bertana comes Friday in an away match with conference foe San Jose State.
“We will get more tricky with our goals,” Stone promised.
Still, expect to see Janelle Stone running down the left sideline looking for Gianna Bertana on Friday, the rest of this season and next year.
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @samlounz.