UNI Soccer – Set Up For Success: A Comeback Season

Last season, the University of Northern Iowa women’s soccer team had a disappointing season going 4-15.

“In terms of wins and loses, we were very disappointed,” head coach James Price said.

So far, with five guaranteed games left on the schedule, the Panthers have already eclipsed last season’s win total, sporting a record of 5-5-3.

UNI vs USD 10/21

UNI vs USD 10/21

What has gone right for the Panthers this season?

“For the most part we compete with everybody,” Price said. “There have been moments where I have been really happy with our intensity.”

For starters, they’ve scored more goals. A very obvious key to success. However, the Panthers are scoring more consistently and are buying into what Price has said all season long.

“We don’t have any one player that is going to score 20 plus goals for us,” Price said. “For us to win it is going to take a team effort.”

The Panthers have seemed to buy into that message. With 10 different players having scored a goal for UNI this season the Panthers have more individuals with a goal than any other team in their conference.

UNI vs USD 10/21

UNI vs USD 10/21

“We don’t have a specific goal scorer who is going to score a lot of goals. Rather we have a lot of players who can score goals,” remarked Price.

The Panther women have scored 15 goals so far this season – last year they scored 14 goals through their 19 games. Not only are the goals up, but it seems as though UNI is on the attack much more this season. They are well ahead on total shots this season as compared to last season’s below-average 148 total shots. This season the Panthers are averaging 11 shots per game. Compared to last season’s 6.7.

Along with the improvement on the attack, the Panthers are posting one of the most stout defenses in the Missouri Valley Conference allowing a conference second best 1.38 goals a game.

This number is particularly impressive considering the Panthers have played the most minutes out of any team in the MVC due to having been in five overtime games.

Even more impressively, while also disappointing, is that UNI is posting these defensive numbers with an injury filled defensive back four.

UNI vs USD 10/21

UNI vs USD 10/21

With two of UNI’s opening night starters sidelined with injuries for the majority of the season, junior Katie Witt has stepped up as the Panthers’ best defender. Witt has been leading the defense all season long. She is the only player to have started every game. And she has played nearly every minute of those starts. As Coach Price has stated,

“Katie has been phenomenal for us.”

Along with Witt, the emergence of freshman Allison Bitter has been important for the Panthers.

“Allison seems to get better for us in every game,” Price said. “She continues to grow and be a consistent player for us.”

Like Witt, Bitter has played in every single game and has been moved to the middle of the defense. She has started all but one of the 15 games. Bitter continuously has made the easy pass to get out of tough situations and has shown great anticipation when in one-on-one match-ups.

Coach Price has also made mention of the impressive form of redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Whitney Blunt.

“Out of all of our players, she has made the least amount of mistakes,” Price said. “She’s been with us for a long time and we knew what we had with her coming into the season, but she has played very well for us.”

Blunt is right up there with the best keepers in the conference in terms of statistics. Currently third in the conference in total saves with 60 on the season. And posting a conference second-best goals against average at 1.30.

UNI vs USD 10/21

UNI vs USD 10/21

While all of these things have went well for UNI this season, admittedly, Saturdays tie to Drake came as a disappointment.

With a 2-0 lead, the Panthers gave up a goal with 30 minutes left in the second half, followed by giving up a heartbreaking second goal with 17 seconds left on the clock.

Perhaps this was the best outcome for the game, since Drake came to Waterloo with a relatively similar record as the Panthers of 5-7. Between the two and their common opponents scores in those games were comparatively the same.

However, Saturday’s game was one that the Panthers needed to set themselves up for a favorable run in conference play.

In no way is hope lost, considering the Panthers have scored six goals in their past three games, which is the most they’ve scored in the past two years against arguably the best stretch of competition.

So, the Panthers are flashing the signs of heating up at the right time. Hopefully their momentum continues as they look to play the Indiana State Sycamores on Friday. Followed by a critical match against current second-place Illinois State in Normal, Illinois next Wednesday.