Kip Coons, TSN Correspondent
RALEIGH, N.C. – There are signs that the youth movement may be paying off for N.C. State coach Tim Santoro.
His Wolfpack women’s soccer team has fashioned a respectable 5-2 record so far against non-conference competition, and the only game that wasn’t close was a 3-0 loss at No. 15 South Carolina.
Coming off a 2-0 win at East Carolina on Thursday, N.C. State hosts Gardner-Webb on Sunday before plunging into ACC action with 10 consecutive conference matches to close out the regular season, beginning with a road game at eighth-ranked North Carolina on Sept. 16.
State might field one of the youngest starting lineups in the nation, with five freshmen, four sophomores, and only two veterans – redshirt junior forward Jackie Stengel and junior center back Cailyn Boch.
Ten freshmen have seen playing time already, and six of them have found their way onto the score sheet with either a goal or an assist.
Freshman midfielders Tziarra King, Ricarda Walkling and Paige Griffiths, forward Kia Rankin, and defender Kristina Schuster have started every match.
What does Santoro see in his freshmen?
“Talent. Speed. Technical skill. The ability to play different positions,” he said.
“I can interchange them, and we really don’t lose anything, which is important when you get into the conference schedule. You have to have different options, different ways to play. We have the personnel to do that. It’s encouraging, but it is just five or six games so far.”
The signs are there, however.
The Wolfpack has scored 18 goals already, four more than it totaled all of last season.
With the win over the Pirates, State has quietly, yet impressively, put together a four-game winning streak, adding to previous wins over Navy 4-1, High Point 4-2, UNC-Wilmington 2-0.
Leading into Thursday’s game, the progress the Wolfpack had made was evident.
High Point came in undefeated last week and ranked 10th in the Southeast Region in the coaches’ poll, behind nine ACC teams.
Despite some disorganization on defense that squandered two leads, State took control over the final 50 minutes and pulled away.
Santoro liked the offensive output, but not so much the defensive effort in that game.
“I think we’re always going to be able to score goals and produce chances,” he said.
“We were very sloppy defensively tonight. So that’s the part we have to clean up before Sunday.”
The Pack did just that at UNC-Wilmington.
Behind six saves by sophomore goalkeeper Sydney Wootten and goals by Stengel and King, State recorded its first shutout of the season.
The Seahawks had been ranked first in the Mid-Atlantic Region and received enough votes in the national poll to rank 30th.
For the second consecutive game, Stengel had an early goal to get the Pack rolling.
An elite player who played with the U.S. Under-23 team over the spring and summer, she has already equaled her season goal (5) and points (11) totals of a year ago.
“We kind of approach every game, ‘Hey, first five, 10, 15 minutes, let’s get after them,’” Stengel said.
“Let’s set the tone of the game, and we try to do that every game. So we’ve definitely found a way to do that the last few games.”
King is second on the team with four goals, and four of the top six scorers are freshmen.
Walkling and Schuster, both from Germany, have been especially impressive.
Walkling handles the playmaker role in center midfield for the Pack and is the third-leading scorer with two goals and four assists.
Schuster, an outside defender, has shown an ability to get forward and support the attack with strong crosses.
“They both played at a high level for Bayern Munich, with some first-team experience, which is one of the best club teams in the world,” Santoro said.
“They know what they’re doing, and they bring some savvy to us. But again they’re still young too, and this is all new to them, the culture, and the speed of the game is a lot faster. So it’s a work in progress, but we have a lot of good pieces. We just have to grow up fast.”
Added Stengel, “they’re a hard-working class, and probably one of the best freshman classes we’ve had in a while.
“They want to win. We’ve been waiting for three or four years now to do that, and it feels great.”
Homecoming for Golan
Third-year Minnesota coach Stefanie (Kraay) Golan made a triumphant return to Koskinen Stadium last weekend in the Duke Nike Classic.
Golan spent five years at Duke (1997-2001), including a medical redshirt year, and her final season in Durham was the first for current head coach Robbie Church.
Minnesota (5-1), which entered the tournament ranked No. 9, routed Villanova 5-0 before falling to Duke 1-0.
“Koskinen Stadium definitely has a special place in my heart, for sure,” Golan said.
“Great memories here, and I couldn’t be more proud of our Minnesota team coming in and playing the way that we did for two games. On Friday coming out with a 5-0 victory, and then going toe to toe with Duke for 90 minutes, and being right in the game with them the entire time. We’re disappointed that we didn’t get a little bit more out of the game.”
Several of Golan’s Duke teammates were on hand for the homecoming, sporting Golden Gophers T-shirts in the stands as a show of solidarity.
“We had probably seven or eight of us back from the late ‘90s who were here,” said Golan, listing Sherrill Kester, Kasey Truman, Alison Sanders, Alexis Highsmith, Isis Dallis, Crystal Pressley, and Brooke Leahy.
“We spent the day together (Saturday), and they were here for the game today as well.”
Minnesota has been something of a surprise team this season.
Picked only sixth in the Big Ten by the league’s coaches, the Golden Gophers are ranked 10th in the nation this week.
“We joke around all the time because we feel like, when you think Minnesota, you don’t think soccer, so that’s why we think people kind of forget about us a little bit,” Golan said.
“Our kids have bought in really hard to how we want to play and what we could actually accomplish. Two of the last three years we’ve beaten Penn State. We’re on the verge of taking that next step.”
Penn State won the NCAA championship last year, beating Duke in the title game.
“They’ve got a great team,” Church said of Golan.
“She’s done an unbelievable job there. They’re going to win a lot of games.”
Minnesota came close to adding Duke to its list.
“I didn’t know Minnesota was going to be top 10,” Church laughed.
“I told Stef I wouldn’t have scheduled her.”
Golan had praise for her former coach as well.
“This is probably the best Duke team I’ve ever seen,” she said.
Two veteran goalkeepers and a freshman midfielder at area schools were honored for their play last week.
Duke graduate student Robert Moewes was named the men’s ACC Defensive Player of the Week, and UNC senior Lindsey Harris picked up the same honor among women’s players.
Ella Stevens of Duke was named to TopDrawerSoccer.com’s team of the week, as was Moewes.
Moewes recorded eight saves as Duke (2-0-1) went on the road Friday to knock off UCLA 1-0, which was ranked ninth at the time.
To put Duke’s victory into context, three days later UCLA trounced No. 10 Akron 6-1.
The eight saves were a season high for Moewes, a native of Dortmund, Germany.
He was the two-time America East Conference Goalkeeper of the Year at Binghamton before transferring to attend Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.
It marked the fifth time in his college career that he recorded eight or more saves in a game.
Harris, from Austin, Texas, made 13 saves in two matches for the No. 8 Tar Heels (4-0-1), including a career-high 11 in a 0-0 tie with No. 6 Duke.
She played one half in a 2-0 victory over Villanova on Sunday, splitting time with sophomore Samantha Leshnak.
The 11 saves were the most in a single game in UNC history against a varsity opponent.
The school record for saves is 14 by Molly Current against the Virginia Select Team in 1980.
Because of the limited number of varsity teams in the early years of collegiate women’s soccer, UNC regularly played club and select teams.
Stevens scored the game-winner for Duke (4-1-1) in the 1-0 win over Minnesota on Sunday.
The 2016 Gatorade Player of the Year from Grayson, Ga., has three goals, tied for the team lead.
When Duke hosts No. 4 West Virginia (5-0-1) at 7 p.m. Friday, three seniors who were members of the Olympic bronze medal-winning Canada Women’s National Team will be on the field: defender-midfielder Rebecca Quinn of Duke, and defender Kadeisha Buchanan and midfielder Ashley Lawrence of West Virginia.
It would probably be appropriate to play both the Canadian and American national anthems before kickoff.
The ACC season gets underway this week for the men, and all three local teams will be in action against nationally ranked opponents.
The big match-up will see No. 3 North Carolina (3-0) visiting No. 2 Clemson (3-0) at 7 p.m. Friday.
Also Friday, N.C. State (1-2) will host No. 6 Syracuse (4-0).
At 6 p.m. Saturday, Duke (2-0-1) plays at No. 25 Boston College (3-1).