WINONA LAKE, Ind. – Grace’s women’s soccer program has experienced a rejuvenation in the past decade, growing from an afterthought into a national contender under head coach Michael Voss.
Last year the Lady Lancers put an exclamation point on the program’s rise by reaching the NAIA National Championships for the first time.
But despite a myriad of milestones last year — winning an NAIA Opening Round match, posting a 15-3-3 record, finishing the year ranked No. 11 in the NAIA poll — Voss is far from satisfied. He has his sights set higher.
“We want to go further. The achievements we experienced last year were the culmination of years of work behind it,” Voss said. “This team is eager to live up to the expectations that the past has set for us. They’re honored that they get to take over. This group is eager to take ‘possession-attacking futbol’ forward and help Grace become the best team in the nation.”
Despite graduating several key pieces from last year’s groundbreaking roster, the Lady Lancers still return an experienced core in 2016.
Grace’s defense will look to be an impenetrable force this fall. Junior goalkeeper Abby Schue ranked No. 6 in the nation last year with a 0.55 goals against average. She notched the third-most shutouts (11) in the NAIA thanks to a robust backline.
Senior Maile Grout figures to play a key role in the midfield, according to Voss. She has grown into a “complete 360 degree player” who has tremendous vision to connect Grace’s midfield. “[Grout] will be a key point for our team,” he added.
Meredith Hollar headlines Grace’s attack after earning NAIA All-American status last season. The senior forward tied for the team lead with nine goals last fall, including six game-winning strikes. “Meredith [Hollar] is a powerful forward who continues to make improvements in her game. She’s an excellent teammate who is an absolute handful to defend.”
Voss hopes Grace’s offense can be improved this year with a more lethal attack. Last season the Lady Lancers boasted an impressive resumé by beating seven teams who were ranked or receiving votes in the NAIA. But half of Grace’s wins on the season were by one goal. As a result, Voss noted that the team’s goal-scoring ability needed to improve this fall.
“We won games by narrow margins last year,” he said. “We need to do a better job of scoring goals and putting teams away.”
To reach Grace’s aspirations, the team will need to maintain unity. The returning core must quickly mesh with a large incoming class if Grace is to replicate last year’s success, according to Voss.
Joining Grace this year are seven newcomers. Sophomore Flavia Villaça de Faria and freshmen Isabel Applequist,McKenna Cruz, Olivia Johnson, Joana Schimmel, Liz Van Wormer and Corinne Villalobos complete a talented, dynamic group.
“We need a strong unity and a resolve that does not waver. It shouldn’t matter who we play. We need to play at our potential. We set our own standard and live up to that mark. That will be the biggest challenge for us. Everything else will take care of itself.”
The Lady Lancers’ final tuneup for the year is on Aug. 19 in a home exhibition against Cedarville. Grace will start the year on the road against Northwestern Ohio on Aug. 27. Grace’s official home opener is Sept. 10 against Missouri Baptist.