By Aaron Eshelman, Staff Writer
The Jets women’s soccer team is coming off its best season in program history. However, the team will have a much different roster this fall.
Eleven players graduated from Newman last season, eight of whom were starters and five of whom were named to all-conference teams, including Heartland Conference offensive player of the year Grace Linton. Head coach Aaron Avila will have to rely on less experienced players this season, including sophomores Jordan Ashworth, Sara Gutknecht and others who did not get much playing time a year ago.
However, Avila said he remains confident that his team will stay competitive.
“I think we’ll surprise a lot of people. If we can just stay healthy and continue to develop, we’re not going to be an easy team to play against,” Avila said.
The Jets do have key returners that will be looked at to fill leadership rolls this season on the field and in the locker room. Senior Vanessa Ortiz, who scored nine goals last season en route to being named all-conference, will be one of them, as well as Kyra Butler who returns for her junior season after making all conference teams in each of her first two seasons at Newman.
Redshirt junior Caitlin Davis missed all of last season with a knee injury but looks set to have a very successful year, Avila said.
“She’s back, and it seems like she hasn’t missed a beat. She’s playing really well right now,” Avila said.
Other players to watch include sophomore goalkeeper Jackie Lari, who started nearly every game in her freshman year, and seniors Kennedy Weaver and Katie Hartman, who are also expected to be big contributors this season for the Jets.
On top of almost a completely new lineup, fans will see Newman facing off against unfamiliar competition as the Jets will play as members of the Mid-American Athletic Association for the first time.
In the MIAA conference preseason poll, Newman was picked eighth out of 12 teams.
“We’re underestimated for sure,” redshirt junior Emma Barnet said. “We may have a shortage of experience, but the talent is here.”
Avila was not surprised with the ranking, due to how different the team is than in years past. He doesn’t want too much stock put into the poll.
“We’re going to have to prove ourselves. Obviously we want to finish higher than that, but the preseason poll is just that: a preseason poll,” Avila said.
The Jet women open up the regular season on September sixth on the road at Southwest Baptist, kicking off a string of six straight road games before their home opener against Northeastern State.
PHOTO: Courtesy Photo. Newman Athletics.