The Hutchinson Community College women’s soccer team has made it to three NJCAA District B Tournaments since 2007.
On all three occasions, Hutchinson has lost to Laramie County, twice in the semifinals and once in the championship game. Two of the losses, 2007 and last season, came in overtime.
Just suppose for a minute, that having to play in the District B Tournament was no longer a part of the equation for Hutchinson to reach its goal. Suppose that the next meeting with Laramie County would take place in the NJCAA Women’s Division I National Tournament.
There is no supposition needed for Sammy Lane and his Lady Dragons anymore. The team that wins the 2012 Region VI championship will receive an automatic bid to nationals this season with the expanded field and the fact Region VI women’s soccer now has 16 teams.
But that good news hardly tempers the strong memories of the nine sophomores who return this season.
HCC finished 17-3 in 2011, winning a third-straight Jayhawk Conference and second-straight regional crown. Still the sophomores are constantly reminded of that 2-1 overtime loss to Laramie County on their home field, a pitch HCC hadn’t lost on since 2008.
“The girls tell me they wish they could go back to that game,” said Lane, a four-time Jayhawk Conference Coach of the Year who begins his eighth season in 2012 with an all-time record of 108-26-2. “They forget about winning two conferences and two regions. Until we get over that hump, that's all they’ll remember.”
The Lady Dragons start 2012 ranked No. 9 in the NJCAA Preseason Division I women’s poll. Hutchinson was picked by a poll of Jayhawk Conference coaches to capture a fourth-straight conference crown. In the past four seasons, HCC has posted a record of 71-7-2, with four of those losses coming in the postseason.
The Lady Dragons, who scored 135 goals last season – reaching seven or more goals eight times – should have another good scoring punch.
All eyes will be on returning first-team All-American Melissa Hetherington (Burnley, England), who led the nation last season in goals scored (36) and was fourth in points (86). A gifted scorer, Hetherington also had 14 assists for good measure. She begins her sophomore season already No. 5 on the career points chart and No. 4 in career goals. Hetherington set single-season records for points and goals last season.
Joining Hetherington up front will be sophomores Shelbi Otte (McPherson), who had 18 points on eight goals and two assists as a freshman, and freshman Danielle Sheehy (Limerick, Ireland). Sheehy played for Ireland’s U19 national team.
“Having Mel back is huge, and she looks better,” Lane said. “We also brought in Danielle, and she’s a perfect complement. She likes to run in to goal, while Mel is a target. I expect (Hetherington) to score the same amount of goals, and it wouldn't shock me to see Danielle score more than Mel did last year.”
The midfield will have a different look to it without two-time All-American Alicia Robinson, who won back-to-back Jayhawk Conference Offensive Player of the Year awards, and All-American Pearl Slattery masterfully slicing defenses.
Sophomore Nicole Cronin (Limerick, Ireland) returns after an injury-plagued freshman season where she had four goals. Also back is Andrea Thompson (The Colony, Texas). She had five goals. Freshman Erinn Penny (Hutchinson High), Courtney Gahagen (Wichita) and Stephany Cushing (Topeka).
Sophomore Jamie Smith (Welland, Canada) will replace 2011 Jayhawk Conference Defensive Player of the Year Rebekah Ramstack as the anchor of the back line this season. Smith is the only defender back who was a full-time starter last season. Also returning is Isa Whitely (Topeka) return to lead a defense that surrendered just nine goals in 20 games last season.
In fact, over the last four years, HCC has surrendered just 36 goals, while scoring 477.
Lane does return two sophomore goalkeepers in Eunice Figueroa (Arlington, Texas) and Emily Soza (Topeka).
Figueroa was the No. 1 keeper last season, posting a 13-2 record with five shutouts. One thing Figueroa would like to improve on is her save percentage, which was lust .771 last season. Soza was 4-1 with three shutouts and a save percentage of .833.
As a duo, Figueroa and Soza didn’t see that many shots on goal in 2011. HCC’s stellar defensive line let only 41 shots on goal through.
Hutchinson’s two chief conference rivals again will be Butler and Johnson County, picked two and three, respectively in the preseason coaches’ poll. HCC will play host to Johnson County on Sept. 15 and then travel to Butler on Oct. 14.
The season opens for Hutchinson Tuesday against the team picked fourth in the Jayhawk Conference, Neosho County. That game is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the USD 308 Athletic Complex at 23rd and Cleveland. The game will be videostreamed live on the Blue Dragon Sports Network.
(By Steve Carpenter, HCC Sports Information Director)