The Colorado State women’s soccer team couldn’t find the back of the net for the first two games of the 2017 season. But since their Aug. 20 overtime loss to Denver, the Rams have regained their offensive stride.
CSU racked up 17 shots, six shots on net and zero goals in the first two games of the season. In the three games since, the Rams have registered 46 shots, 20 shots on net and seven goals.
Leading the offensive resurgence for the Rams has been the freshman trio of Ally Murphy-Pauletto, Taylor Steinke and Alyssa Yoshida. All three are among the top four on the team in shots and shots on goal. Murphy-Pauletto leads all Rams with nine shots, six shots on goal and three goals. Steinke is tied for second with one tally.
After a successful career in club and high school soccer, the biggest adjustment for Murphy-Pauletto in her first collegiate season was catching up to the speed of the game.
“I think the speed is the biggest thing that caught me off guard,” Murphy-Pauletto said. “The speed of the game is way faster. You have to play a lot quicker, but it makes the game more fun I think.”
Once acquainted with the college game, the reigning NCAA Soccer Women’s Player of the Week knew she could make an impact in her first year, but recognizes that it couldn’t have been possible without the help of her teammates.
“It was my goal to come in and be a spark whenever I got in,” Murphy-Pauletto said. “I couldn’t have done it without assists from Alyssa Yoshida and Karli Eheart, who’s actually my roommate.”
Coach Bill Hempen said he uses the non-conference portion of the schedule to assemble the best possible combination of players for the start of conference play. With players like Murphy-Pauletto standing out and finding their role, the best mix of players is becoming clear for Hempen and he thinks it has led to more offense.
“Individuals are rising, or kind of finding their way in the pecking order of the program,” Hempen said. “Obviously the ones that are providing the most positive aspects, we try to get them on the field together.”
Using the right combination of players on game day is one way the Rams have generated offense, but Murphy-Pauletto thinks practice and familiarity has led to an increase in scoring as well.
“We play 3-5-2 and we have definitely understood the positions more as the games have gone on,” Murphy-Pauletto said. “In practice we’ve really been going to the goal and focusing on positive finishes and always getting on the end of everything. I think our attitude of always going to the goal has really gotten us there.”
Both in practice and games, many of the players stepping up for the Rams this season have been freshmen. To Hempen, seeing freshmen challenge the upperclassmen and push them to be better is a sign that he and his staff are doing their job.
“Our job is to bring kids in that are better than the kids we have and at least challenge those players,” Hempen said. “Those good players may make the players we have rise, or they can step over them. If you want it bad enough, you’ll outdo the younger player, but right now the younger players don’t know any better, so they’re out here trying to prove themselves.”
Veteran players like junior forward Kaija Ornes have embraced the challenge of competing with the young players.
“I think it’s awesome that the freshmen are able to come in and play,” Ornes said after the first game of the season. “They’re super strong kids. It’s great to have them in practice. They’ll push you around. It makes it more competitive every day.”
With a talented mix of youngsters, veterans and quality leaders, Hempen believes this is the best combination of Rams in his time at CSU.
“I think this team is closer to getting it right than any other team we’ve had here before,” Hempen said.
The Rams offense will be tested on the road for the first time this season when they take on SIU Edwardsville on Friday at 6 p.m.
Collegian sports reporter Christian Hedrick can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ChristianHCSU.