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Early challenges push Mountaineers to Sun Belt success

Senior+forward+Julia+Holz+heads+the+ball+to+gain+control+in+last+seasons+match+against+Morehead+State.+Photo+by+Paul+Heckert++%7C++The+Appalachian
Senior forward Julia Holz heads the ball to gain control in last season’s match against Morehead State. Photo by Paul Heckert | The Appalachian

As the conference portion of the season continues, App State’s women’s soccer team shows the potential to use its difficult nonconference schedule to progress in the Sun Belt.

The Mountaineers are 6-8 on the season with a 3-2 conference mark and have notched two of its three conference wins on the road.

Senior forward Julia Holz heads the ball to gain control in last season's match against Morehead State. Photo by Paul Heckert  |  The Appalachian
Senior forward Julia Holz heads the ball to gain control in last season’s match against Morehead State. Photo by Paul Heckert | The Appalachian

The 6-8 overall record is directly indicative of a tough nonconference schedule that had the team off to a slow start.

By building a difficult nonconference schedule, head coach Sarah Strickland said she looked for the best way to prepare her team for both the conference and the tournaments to come after it.

“We believe that to be prepared, not just for the conference but also for post-season like the NCAA tournament, you’ve got to play the best,” Strickland said. “In order to get your [Rating Percentage Index] high enough to get into the tournament, which is where they rank you in the country, you have to play good teams.”

Strickland said many of the nonconference teams the team played were chosen because they had similar playing styles to the teams the Mountaineers would face in conference and held a higher level of difficulty.

The early season schedule also started the Mountaineers off with nine of their first 12 games on the road.

The Mountaineers have a chance to rally now, as the team is in the midst of a set of four straight games at home. However, Strickland said the team is always able to focus on the opponent, regardless of where the game takes place.
“We’re not home- or away-oriented,” Strickland said. “We’re game-oriented. We’ve created a schedule and stuck to it whether we’re on the road or at home.”

With only four conference games left in the season before the Sun Belt Tournament begins, the Mountaineers have confidence in their ability to win the conference after being prepared with the tough early schedule.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that this season we could win it all,” senior forward Jenna Caudle said. “In nonconference, we continued to build every game, and I just think it’s coming out now. We’ve got such a deep team. There are not that many teams that substitute as many players as we do.”

Despite what the results of the nonconference schedule reflects on its season record, it does not reflect the Mountaineers capabilities in the Sun Belt.

“I think playing a lot of easy teams in nonconference and winning by a lot it doesn’t really help you much,” senior defender Nicole Steyl said. “Playing hard teams, whether you lose, tie or win, you learn a whole lot more. That’s what nonconference is about, it’s about learning with your team and learning how to play off each other and with each other.”

Throughout the season so far, the Mountaineers have seen tough nonconference teams, new conference opponents on the road and have gone to overtime five times in 14 games, including two double-overtime affairs.

Caudle said all of the new experiences have only helped the Mountaineers grow together.

“We’ve seen it all,” Caudle said. “I just think this prepared us for what counts.”

The Mountaineers are back in action when they take on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette on Friday and the University of Louisiana at Monroe on Sunday in Boone to conclude their home games for the season.

The Sun Belt Tournament is set to begin Nov. 5 in Mobile, Alabama.

Story: Jess Lyons, Senior Sports Reporter

Photo: File Photo, The Appalachian

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