New face leads SDSU soccer into 2017 season

By ANDREW HOLTAN Sports Editor

The South Dakota State soccer team will have a new head coach after former coach Lang Wedemeyer accepted a job at Liberty University Jan. 31, 2017. That man is Brock Thompson.

Thompson isn’t new to Brookings, though. He was an assistant under Wedemeyer for the past nine seasons. The Jacks made the NCAA Tournament four times during those nine seasons, including last three consecutively.

SDSU opened the season on the road Aug. 18 in Logan, Utah. The Jacks fell to Utah State 1-0 in double overtime. Then, they immediately traveled to Salt Lake City where they fell to the University of Utah 4-1.

Thompson said coming into the season he knew the Jacks would struggle a little defensively due to lack of experience. 

“We’ve got great players back there, but there’s no substitute for experience, so we expect that they’ll gain experience as we go through the season and in the end their ability will show,” Thompson said.

SDSU does have some experience on defense, but not much. Junior defender Alexa Hepner set a single-season school record for minutes played last season with 1,970. Juniors Annie Wilson and Kyli Nelson split starts last season, with Wilson starting eight games and Nelson starting 19.

The Jacks also have two freshman defenders who have already contributed minutes in Molly Ballinger and Kaitlin Zabel. 

Fortunately, the Jacks have experience in-goal as they return sophomore Maggie Smither. Smither allowed a school record 0.34 goals per game. She was 7-2-4 on the season last year and had shutouts in the Summit Tournament League Final and NCAA Tournament game. Those numbers will be hard to reproduce, but Thompson thinks she can do it.

“Every year is a new year, but the reason Maggie had success last year was because she focused on getting better and helping the team win. I expect her to focus on those things again and see what happens,” Thompson said.

SDSU will have four seniors this season. Forward Nicole Hatcher led the team in goals and assists last season, with six and 10 respectively. Four out of Hatcher’s six goals were game winners.

Senior midfielder Tori Poole tied Hatcher for leading the team in goals last season as she also contributed six. Poole started all 21 games last season and will be playing alongside Jennie Scislow and Julia Lam in the midfield. Scislow scored two goals last season and started in 16 games. Lam had one assist and no goals in 21 starts.

“The group of seniors is really unique because they all have different personalities, but they all show great leadership,” Thompson said. “They’ll all leave an imprint on the team in different ways.”

Each of those seniors have made the NCAA Tournament in their first three seasons, but lost in the first round each time. Thompson says the next step for his team is to win a game in the tournament.

“We’re really proud of that, being one of 22 teams to play in the last three tournaments,” Thompson said. “Obviously, it would be great to win a game in the tournament and go far in the tournament, it would be huge for our program, but that’s in November and December and we can’t get there if we don’t have a good August, September and October.” 

The Jacks’ next game is against the University of North Dakota at 6 p.m. Aug. 25 at Fishback Soccer Park in Brookings.