Nevada Soccer has flipped the script this season following the worst season in school history in 2017. The Pack is unbeaten in four games this season, already tripling their win total from last season. The 3-0-1 start is the second-best start just behind the 4-0-1 start by the 2006 team.
Head coach Erin Otagaki has already changed the culture of Nevada in just her second season at the helm. She overhauled the roster by adding 13 new players —12 freshmen and one transfer— during the offseason. The moves have worked so far as one of the true freshman Payton Lieb leads the team in goals with three and shots on goal with five, while another freshman Kylie Minamishin leads the team in shots with ten.
This unbeaten run has not been easy. Nevada handled their first opponent relatively easily in a 1-0 win over Idaho at Moana Springs Sports Complex. Lieb scored the games only goal in the 86th minute from the penalty spot.
The Wolf Pack played UC Davis just two days later. The Pack took an early lead off a cross got headed in and placed in the net by Eleanor Small in the 11th minute. UC Davis tied the game just eight minutes later after a goal by Alicia Sloss. The remainder of the game was defined by UC Davis’ inability to convert on their chances. The Aggies had 15 corners to the Wolf Pack’s two. The Pack, however, made the most out of their rare chances as in the 85th minute Lieb scored on the Pack’s second corner attempt of the match. The goal was the freshman’s second consecutive game scoring the game-winning goal for Nevada.
Lieb’s performances against Idaho and UC Davis earned her the accolade of Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week.
Nevada’s only draw this season came in a double-overtime scoreless draw against Weber State. The hero of the game was Angel Meriwether who kicked a ball just before it crossed the goal line as Kendal Stovall was caught in a traffic jam full of players in the first minute of the opening overtime.
Otagaki’s squad got back to its winning ways with a win over Southern Utah. After an uneventful first half, Southern Utah was able to able to draw a penalty in the 64th minute. The Thunderbirds converted, leaving the Wolf Pack just 35 minutes to pick up at least a point to stay undefeated. Nevada drew a penalty after a corner kick and it was up to the team’s talisman Peyton Lieb to equalize. Lieb easily converted and the Pack did not let their foot off the pedal. The Pack drew another penalty and the chance was finished by Minamishin. The Thunderbirds did not go quietly as they forced freshman goalkeeper Kendal Stovall to make multiple saves in the last knockings of the game. She finished the game with six saves in all.
Stovall has allowed just two goals in the first four matches of the season, tallying two shutouts. The heroic saves she made earned her the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week.
The new-look soccer squad may struggle to put up shots sometimes but its defense and goalkeeper give them a chance in any game. The youth of the team also gives them the room to grow and become a potential powerhouse in the Mountain West.
The Pack looks to extend its unbeaten streak next Sunday, Sept 2, against Saint Marys. The next home game for Nevada is Thursday, Sept. 13 versus Hawai’i at Mackay Stadium.
Darion Strugs can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @dstrugs.