by Andrew Goodwin, Sports Information Assistant
SPOKANE, Wash. – Whitworth women's soccer is a program on the rise. After returning to the top half of the Northwest Conference with a bounce-back 2016 campaign the Pirates expect even more in 2017. They think they can be squarely in the hunt for their first conference championship since 1995.
Northwest Conference coaches agree. They picked Whitworth to finish third in the conference coaches' poll behind Pacific Lutheran and perennial power Puget Sound. The Pirates' total in the poll included the lone first place vote not awarded to PLU.
"We have an amazing young group who will be encouraging and sharpening each other every day," head coach Bryan Olson said. "Our expectation is exactly that – that each of us brings the best of which we are able every time that we are together."
Whitworth improved to 10-10 (9-7 NWC) and won seven of their last ten matches in Olson's inaugural season at the helm. Their 9-7 (27 points) record placed them in a tie for third place in the Northwest Conference, the Pirates' best finish since 2012.
Olson enters his second season as the head coach of the Pirates. Prior to his hiring as the women's head coach, Olson was the top assistant for the men's team as they compiled a 66-17-12 record and made three trips to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The Whitworth women certainly have the talent to make a trip of their own to the Division III tournament. The Pirates return all but two of the starting 11 from last season along with several capable reserves.
"Our team's greatest strengths this season will lie in our unity and our tremendous depth," Olson said. "We look forward to seeing that develop over the course of this season."
Van Peursem was a first team All-NWC selection last season after leading the Pirates in goals. She returns for her junior season after scoring seven goals last year, which placed her in a tie for third in the conference.
On the wing opposite Van Peursem, McKenzie Hemp chipped in five assists last season. That mark led the team, and Hemp finished the season as an All-NWC Honorable Mention choice.
Kathryn Bischoff is Whitworth's third All-NWC choice, picking up first team honors last season. Bischoff scored the game-winning goal in an upset win over Puget Sound last season and anchored the Whitworth defense from the central midfield.
Joining Bischoff in the midfield will be fellow starter Kelly Wucherer. The pair are joined in the midfield by 2016 reserves Michelle Whan and Morgan Howe both of whom contributed to victories last season. Coby Yoshimura also joins the Whitworth midfield this season from Peninsula College.
At forward the Pirates bring back all-conference choices in Van Peursem and Hemp, but fans shouldn't overlook the impact of returning starter Leah Corra. The senior finished second on the team in goals in 2016 after putting four shots in the back of the net. Rachel Wofford, Kara Need, and Courtney Potter are all back this season as well with Hannah Rae Miller making the move up from midfield to compliment the Pirates' front line.
All that talent in scoring positions shouldn't feel too much pressure this season either as the Pirates' defense looks stellar. Starting defenders Diana DeWald, Tatem Fredrickson, and Jennifer Loehner all return to anchor Whitworth's back line.
Courtney Harmon and Shirley Chandler both saw playing time in reserve roles last year and will continue to contribute this year. Kylee Platt and Sydney Weiler both bring valuable experience to Whitworth's defense from the community college ranks.
The Pirates bring back two goalkeepers who started last season as well. Sienna Tanner (15 starts) finished 10-6 with a 1.06 goals against average while fellow senior Jenna Rogers battled back from injuries to pile up 26 saves in 2016. Molly Webster joins the two returners as a transfer from the Community Colleges of Spokane where she earned NWAC All-East Region honors last year.
In addition to all of the returning talent, Olson is excited about the incoming freshman class.
The Pirates will add true freshmen Nicole Jacobson to the back line and Jadyn Baumgartner to the midfield this season. The pair are joined by forward Sarah Cool, a sophomore academically, who ran cross-country last season.
Whitworth's season begins with non-conference matchups at Wheaton College on Friday, Sept. 1 and Saturday, Sept. 2. The Pirates will take on Wheaton on Friday and Denision University on Saturday. With their Illinois road trip complete, Whitworth will return home for matchups with Carroll College (Mont.) and Corban University on Saturday, Sept. 9 and Sunday, Sept. 10.
Whitworth's conference season will kick off when they host Willamette on Saturday, Sept. 16.