With one non-conference game remaining, the Colorado State women’s soccer team has the opportunity to enter Mountain West play with a winning record for the first time in the program’s five-year history.
Through seven games, the Rams are 2-3-2 for a .429 points percentage. If CSU can win or tie against Kansas State (3-3-1) on Sunday, the Rams’ points percentage will be above .500 for their first Mountain West game against Air Force.
Coach Bill Hempen attributes much of CSU’s early season success to the talented newcomers on this year’s team.
“What we told the kids yesterday is that we are so much more competitive from top to bottom than we have ever been before,” Hempen said. “It’s making our upperclassmen shift to another gear because younger players know nothing but going all out.”
Among the newcomers making a difference for the Rams is the freshman duo of Ally Murphy-Pauletto and Karli Eheart. Murphy-Pauletto leads the team with three goals, just ahead of Eheart who has two. Throughout the non-conference schedule, Hempen has noticed that the unassuming freshmen forwards pose a challenge for opposing defenses.
“(Murphy-Pauletto) knows no boundaries. She doesn’t know that she’s 4-foot-3 and 87 pounds,” Hempen joked. “She just keeps fighting and battling. I think in a lot of cases she gets underestimated. People look at her and go, ‘What?’”
While Muprhy-Pauletto’s goal scoring ability has surprised defenders this season, Eheart’s discreet speed has allowed her to light up the score sheet.
“She has a bit of a gift that a lot of people don’t know she has. She’s fast,” Hempen said. “A lot of teams we’ll play against don’t have a back that can hold her. In her case it’s okay to play a ball behind a defender and let her run by them.”
As Murphy-Pauletto and Eheart heat up in the forward spots, other position groups are solidifying as well.
“Our back four or three is pretty solid, we know who they are,” Hempen said. “Our midfield group, Maddi (Rodriguez) and Kay Kay (Caeley Lordemann) and Alex (Lanning) are our starters, but we’re in good hands with our reserves.”
In net, CSU began the season splitting time between senior Paige Brandt and South Carolina transfer Hunter Piefer. With Piefer racking up a majority of the minutes in the last four games, Hempen named the Colorado Springs native the starting goaltender for the foreseeable future.
“Hunter (Piefer) is our goaltender right now,” Hempen said. “Paige (Brandt) and Syd (Sydney Hall) are both working to be the number two, to be ready if something happens to Hunter. Hunter has proven it and she’s got it by the slimmest of margins.”
Piefer’s next opportunity to prove herself will be on the road against Kansas State. Like CSU, the KSU soccer program is still in its infancy. This is the second year the Wildcats have fielded a team and the first year they will be competing in the Big 12. However, Hempen knows the game will be a challenge for his squad.
“I know Mike (KSU coach Dibbini) does a great job with the kids he has in there,” Hempen said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge of playing away and playing a program that’s just as excited to get off the ground as we were.”
If the Rams can beat the Wildcats or play to a draw, CSU will enter Mountain West play with the best record in program history. Whether or not the Rams reach that historical mark, Hempen knows that the depth and skill on this team is better than any he has coached at CSU.
“We’ve come to the realization as a staff that if something doesn’t work, we can go another direction,” Hempen said. “We usually say, ‘Here’s the group and that group is going to play through hell or high-water.’ We’re not at that point anymore and that’s a good place for us.”
CSU takes on KSU at noon MT on Sunday in Manhattan, Kan. The game will also be broadcast on ESPN3.com.
Collegian sports reporter Christian Hedrick can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ChristianHCSU.