Spartans shoot for first place in Mountain West

By Ryan Barnhart (@ryan_barnhart )

Consistency and success have been bright spots for the Spartans women’s soccer team over the past few seasons.

Since Lauren Hanson took over as head coach in 2014, the team has seen a steady increase in both performance and record year after year. SJSU played some of its best soccer in 2015: The Spartans finished second in the Mountain West and would go on to win their first tournament championship in the conference.

Despite landing securing second place in the conference in the 2016 regular season, the year could be looked upon as a bit of a letdown thanks in part to a semifinal tournament knockout by San Diego State.

There’s no doubt that loss is still fresh on the mind of Hanson and the rest of the squad, and this upcoming season, the team’s sights are firmly set on another championship — and possibly more.

One of the first steps the Spartans will need to take toward another trophy will be to look upon the veterans for scoring. With the loss of last season’s seniors, including Alexis Venegas and Maricruz Chapa, SJSU is losing a combined 11 goals and 10 assists from last season. The good news is that the bulk of the scoring still remains on the team.

Senior forward Dorthe Hoppius was the team’s go-to striker last year, scoring the most goals with eight. Going into her final season, there’s a solid chance that she will look to improve on those numbers and go out with a bang. She will have some help from junior Darriell Franklin, who in her second season placed third on the team in points with three goals and four assists. And be sure to keep an eye on sophomore Kristin Amarikwa. While just entering her second year in college, the defender quickly garnered the attention of coaches and fans alike with her ability to score and veteran-like presence on the field.

On the defensive end, the Spartans need to remain the juggernaut they were last season. As a team, SJSU allowed the least amount of goals last season at 20 goals in conference in just as many games. This staunch defense is thanks in part to a hard-nosed defensive mindset and great goalkeeping from Paige Simoneau and Ana Calero. Both Simoneau and Calero placed seventh and ninth respectively in the conference in shutouts, with junior Simoneau recording the highest shutout per game average of any goalkeeper in the conference.

Good offense and great defense will make for a contending team no matter what conference you place them. In order to go all the way and actually win the conference however, the Spartans will to face some stiff competition in the process. Rival SDSU is no stranger to victory, as the team has placed in the top-3 in the conference each of the last four years — including three regular-season and conference championships in three of those years.

Returning juggernaut UNLV is another team to look out for this year. The Rebels won the conference with a deadly attack, leading the Mountain West in every major offensive category. And Utah State, who has ranked in the top-5 in the conference three times since 2013 with a winning conference record, will also be a tough opponent looking to spoil someone’s tournament aspirations.

Despite challenges they may face, the Spartans will be locked and loaded. The team has already proven that they can maintain success with a top-3 conference finish in three of the last four years and a tournament victory already under their belt. With a plethora of talent on both ends of the field and a top coach calling the shots, there’s no doubt that they’ll finish the year as regular season and tournament champs.

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