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CASPER COLLEGE SOCCER

Casper College soccer teams face tough schedules in third season of competition

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Entering their third season of competition, the Casper College soccer teams have already had to deal with adversity. Their inaugural campaign was scheduled to kick off in the fall of 2020, but was pushed back to the following spring because of the pandemic. The Thunderbirds then opened their second season of competition last fall, just three months after the previous season ended.

Year No. 3 of Casper College soccer begins Thursday, with both the men’s and women’s teams in Nevada.

“I feel like there’s at least a sense of normalcy now,” men’s head coach Ben McArthur said. “We had a full camp and I think we’re ready to go.”

The men’s team will be tested early as the T-Birds open against Arizona Western, which is ranked No. 2 in the National Junior College Athletics Association preseason top-25, in North Las Vegas.

The defending Region IX champion T-Birds’ women’s team, which is ranked No. 13, faces Cochise College in Henderson.

Men

The T-Birds’ opener against last year’s NJCAA runner-up is one of five games on their schedule against ranked teams.

“I don’t know of another team in the country that is playing our schedule, I really don’t,” McArthur said. “We just feel that high level of competition is going to pay off for us when the time comes.”

Also on the Casper College schedule are No. 11 Western Texas College (Sept. 30), No. 12 Snow College (Aug. 27), No. 13 Laramie County Community College (Sept. 24) and No. 19 Eastern Florida State (Oct. 2). The T-Birds also face Utah State-Eastern, which, like Casper College, received votes in the preseason poll; and Otero Junior College, which ended The T-Birds’ first two seasons in the Region IX tournament.

With seven returning players, two transfers and 18 freshmen on the roster, the T-Birds believe they are ready to take the next step and qualify for the NJCAA Championships.

“I’m really excited for the team this year,” said third-year sophomore Jesper Van Halderen. “I feel like this year we are better than we were the first two years.”

The forward from the Netherlands had nine goals and five assists his first season, but was limited to just two games last fall because of an injury.

Van Halderen is the team’s lone returning striker, but he has support in the midfield with Riki Soto and Jayden Chudeu, both of whom found the back of the net last season for the T-Birds (10-6-1).

Sophomore Ewan Gordon returns at center back, where he was an all-region player last year.

“I think both Jesper and Ewan are going to have monster years for us,” McArthur said. “And Jayden didn’t have the freshman year he wanted so he took it upon himself to be better.”

Gordon, who hails from Australia, anchors a defense that will be instrumental in shutting down opponents while freshmen goalkeepers Caden Allaire (Kelly Walsh), Talon Luckie (Laramie) and Mads Huegel (Germany) get acclimated to the junior college game. Allaire is scheduled to start between the pipes on Thursday.

“I’m very impressed with our backline,” Gordon said. “Kota (Yamanashi) next to me will be really good and we’ve got good depth at our outside backs. We should be a solid unit.”

McArthur has been impressed with all three goalies in the preseason as well as three other rookies – forward Cole Venable from Worland, midfielder Hayden Hollinger from Kelly Walsh and defender Jules Foll from Belgium.

“Jules is a guy that is going to make an impact for us early and often,” McArthur offered. “Hayden is going to have a chance to play important minutes and Cole is putting himself in position to play for us.

“I like our freshman class, but they’ve got to be ready to step up. There’s not much time for a learning curve.”

Following the Arizona Western game, the T-Birds play at College of Southern Nevada on Saturday before playing three games in three days against Snow College, Colorado Northwestern Community College and Utah State-Eastern on Aug. 27-29. Casper College opens Region IX play at Central Wyoming College on Sept. 1 before its home opener against Western Nebraska Community College on Sept. 5.

“If we want to play with the big guys we’ve got to not only play ‘em but we’ve got to beat ‘em,” McArthur said. “So ready or not, here it comes.”

Gordon believes the T-Birds are up for the challenge.

“They might underestimate us a little bit,” he said, “so hopefully we can surprise them.”

Women

The T-Birds surprised everyone but themselves last season, knocking off Region IX power Laramie County Community College and winning their first regional title before losing 1-0 to Seminole State College in the NJCAA Championships.

Casper College (13-5-1) returns a number of starters from last year’s team as well as bringing in six in-state freshmen in Natrona County’s Hannah Trumbull and Hailie Wilhelm, Green River’s Kiley Strange and Ellie Kettering, Lander’s Emma Goetz and Cheyenne’s Caitlyn Grenfel.

Among the returners, sophomore forwards Sydney Hiatt, Grace Conner, Alyssa Seaich and Paige Meyer have combined for 30 goals, with midfielder Sophia Henely adding six goals and five assists. Defenders Yissel Navarro and Valeria Hernandez also have two goals apiece.

Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @CASJackN

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Sports editor

Jack Nowlin returned to the Star-Tribune in 2007 after eight years covering Michigan State University athletics. A Wyoming native, and a graduate of Jeffrey City High School and the University of Wyoming, Jack serves as the Star-Tribune’s sports editor.

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