There's a new attitude this season within the Lower Columbia College women's soccer team. It comes with the buzz of becoming a playoff contender.
Over the past six seasons, the Red Devils struggled to compete against the conference's upper echelon. Now, LCC is taking positive steps up the NWAC West Region standings.
Last season, the Red Devils were outscored 46-23, and finished 4-15-1 overall and 2-11-1 in the West Region. This season, LCC is 5-6-3 overall, 3-4-2 in the region, and have outscored their opponents 27-26. Because of the success, LCC is ranked in the upper half of the NWAC in assists (eighth, 23), scoring (12th), saves (12th, 79), and goals allowed (15th).
"As we've grown and the program is showing signs of success, we're getting better talent," LCC coach Harlan Cruser said. "We're deeper and have more substitutes than in the past, and the talent level doesn't drop off when the starters come off the field."
With 17 freshmen among the 23 players on this year's team, Cruser has been impressed with how quickly the newcomers have adapted to college soccer.
"Some of them have picked it up quickly, and others are getting there now," Cruser said. "They were ready for the physicality and the speed since a number of them play with premier level teams, but the thought processing really fooled them. They're learning to quickly process information."
Freshmen twins Kayla and Ashlynn Willis of Tonasket, lead the Red Devils in scoring with seven and five goals, respectively, along with nine combined assists. Sophomore Melany Roggow has four goals and three assists, freshman Kaylee Murray has three goals and two assists, and frosh Emily McCoy has chipped-in two goals and five assists. Freshman Zoey Brimhall has dished two assists, and frosh goalkeeper Kennedy Werner has 76 saves.
The spread of scoring comes from a more up-tempo style of play, as Cruser has more substitutes to draw from.
"We're subbing a lot because we're expecting them to run a lot more than we've been able to in the past," he said. "When we had only 11 to 13 players, it was tough to ask them to run for 90 minutes because that's a workload. With 23 players, we're able to do a lot more."
The hi-octane offense stems from first-year assistant coach Bryan Vogel, who has experience as a longtime coach at Woodland High School and FC Salmon Creek in Vancouver.
"Bryan's very good, and the girls like him," Cruser said. "We've wanted to play out of the back and play a short passing game, which is his speciality.”
The Devils' new attitude has also brought heart to daily practices and matches.
"No matter what's going on around them and if they've had a crappy day, when they step on the field they're ready to play," Cruser said. "Every day they ask where they are in the standings and what they have to do, and I tell them they have to keep winning."