The Western Nebraska Community College women’s soccer team will open the regular season this weekend and it won’t be an easy trip as the Cougars open against two nationally ranked teams in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
WNCC, who finished 4-8-2 a year ago, is up to the competition. The Cougar women open the season when they face pre-season No. 3 Iowa Western Community College on Friday and then pre-season honorable mention Barton Community College on Saturday. Both teams made the national tournament a year ago.
“It’s a big challenge playing these two teams. We have to think positive about all games,” sophomore Rafael Ornelas said. “This weekend’s games can be very difficult for us, but not impossible to win. We have to get there confident, believe in our self and do our best on the field to win, no matter the ranking difference. We have a better team this year and we can surprise.”
The Cougars have plenty of depth this season with 12 sophomores, 10 of which are returners from a year ago, and a freshmen class that has plenty of depth. Ornelas, one of the sophomores from Brazil, said this team’s strength will be the depth they possess.
“The strength of team this year I think is that we have more girls, and they are good and strong in soccer. They help in the quality of the team.”
WNCC returns two of its top goal scorers in Thais Nayara and Caroline Vieira, both from Brazil. The Cougars also return Ornelas and Rafaela Passos, also from Brazil, along with goalkeeper Laramie Lake, Amy Romero and Bethany Fuchs from Aurora, Colorado, Perla Guzman from Denver, Lisa Haferkamp from the Netherlands, and Merrissa Espinoza from Scottsbluff.
The Cougars also have two transfers on the roster. Ingrid Caputo comes from Northwest College in Wyoming while Karla Pereya comes from West Virginia Tech University. Caputo is from Brazil while Pereya is from Denver.
WNCC will also have the services of goalkeeper Melody Kaup of Gering, who red-shirted a year ago.
Added to the plethora of sophomores is a freshmen class that is eight strong with newcomers. The freshmen class include a pair of Gering High School scorers in Destiny Mueller and Brittany Spreier. Spreier returns to the playing field after taking a year off of playing while attending Chadron State College. Both Gering players were dynamic scorers for the Bulldogs in their four years in high school.
The other freshmen include Ashley Ruiz, Litzi Delarosa, and Jackie Valenciano of Denver, Raquel Ferreira and Ana Caroline-Lopez of Brazil, and Ana Von Ruden of Reno, Nevada.
The 21 players have been battling it out in practice since early August and have had two scrimmages. WNCC defeated the alumni 3-2 on August 11 and then tied Colorado Mesa 2-2 on Sunday. Ornelas said they played well in the Colorado Mesa match on Sunday against a team that had around 40 players on the team.
“Besides the altitude and the hot and dry weather, the team played good,” she said. “We put in the game what we were working on during practice. We made it hard for the NCAA DII University, and that made us happy, but we still have to work harder.”
Ornelas said while there are a lot of returners, there is no one really standing out above the rest – the talent is equal across the board.
“No one in particular stands out. We are a team,” she said. “We work as a group and everybody stands out. We need the team working together in and out of the field to win.”
The opening week competitive schedule should help the team as they prepare for the conference schedule, which has changed from previous years. All the soccer teams are in one conference this season with everyone playing one another once during the season.
After this weekend, the Cougars will travel to Gillette, Wyoming, to face Mount Marty and Dakota County Tech College before jumping into the conference schedule on Sept. 4 when they travel to Northeastern Junior College.
The Cougars’ first home match is still a month away when they will face Central Community College-Columbus on Sept. 21 at the Landers Soccer Complex.
A couple of games on the schedule that stand out are back-to-back home games against last year’s top two teams Laramie County Community College on Oct. 4 and Western Wyoming Community College on Oct. 5. Western Wyoming won the regional tournament a year ago, while LCCC enters the season ranked No. 10 in the pre-season rankings.
Ornelas said the focus of the season is to bring home a regional title. The last time the Cougar women won regionals was 2008 and a title this year would be the program’s third in the 16-year history of Cougar soccer.
“The focus is to win the regional title,” she said. “We are capable of that.”