Less than three months after their inaugural seasons ended in the Region IX Championships, the Casper College men’s and women’s soccer teams are back on the field preparing for season No. 2. Last year’s initial fall season was pushed back to the spring because of the coronavirus pandemic, so Thunderbirds’ men’s coach Ben McArthur is relishing the return to normalcy.
“We are just really excited to be here in August,” McArthur said during practice Thursday. “All of the players are experiencing their first preseason. It’s a lot of work but we love it. As a coaching staff it allows us to lay out a really clean plan.
“We’re getting into a rhythm and that’s good for these guys to have that rhythm and that predictability.”
The men’s team is coming off a season that saw it rise to No. 8 in the National Junior College Athletics Association Top 25 before its season ended with a 3-0 loss to Otero Junior College in the Region IX semifinals on May 24. With the loss still fresh in his mind, as well as in his returning players’ minds, McArthur said that returning to the pitch has helped them move on.
The T-Birds return a number of starters, including second-team NJCAA All-America defender Victor Hugo, leading scorer Jesper Van Halderen and goalkeeper Konnor Macy.
“These guys understand the system and the style of play and what it takes to win in Region IX,” McArthur said.
That veteran leadership is welcomed, but doesn’t mean the returners won’t be challenged for playing time.
“We have 14 returning players and we added 17 new guys,” McArthur noted. “We’ve added guys from all over the world that have the experience and the soccer background that we need to be successful.
“And we have eight returning starters, he added, “but we told them at the start of practice that nothing is guaranteed. ‘If you want to have a spot, earn it now because everything is up for grabs.’”
Casper College kicks things off Saturday when it hosts Central Wyoming College in an exhibition game at Murane Field. The T-Birds then travel to Southeast Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska, for three shortened exhibition games on Aug. 14 before opening the regular season against Utah State Eastern on Aug. 19 at Murane Field.
The Casper College women’s team also is coming off an impressive inaugural season. The T-Birds were ranked in the Top 25 before their season ended with a 1-0 loss to Western Wyoming Community College in the Region IX quarterfinals.
They return four of their top-five scorers in Sydney Hiatt, Sophia Henely, Abigail Tapia and Madeline Hernandez.
The T-Birds’ season begins with an exhibition game against CWC on Saturday followed by two more exhibition games on the road. They host Utah State Eastern to open the season on Aug.19.
Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @wyovarsity