Jason Spain has different expectations for his Minot State University women's soccer team than the rest of the coaches in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
"We want to host a playoff game," the MSU coach said.
To do so, the Beavers would have to finish in the top four of the conference. The league's coaches picked MSU to finish 10th out of 16 teams in their first NSIC season.
Minot State University senior Jasmine Gandy, right, dribbles into traffic during a 4-on-4 scrimmage Wednesday at Optimist Soccer Complex. Sophomore Haley Lolmaugh steps in as sophomore Zoe Fisher, second from right, watches.
"Everyone always underestimates us," senior defensive midfielder Lexy Kidd said. "They have years before in games and we always come out and we always play a good game."
The Beavers finished 10-8 playing an independent NCAA Division II schedule last season. Sophomore Zoe Fisher led the team with 10 goals despite not scoring until the eighth game of the season. Spain said he expects her to lead MSU in scoring again.
As the Beaver soccer
program enters its third year, Spain finally has the bodies - and the talent - to play his style.
"We want to press the entire game," said Spain, who plans to use 22 players in every game. "It'll keep (opponents) from building out of the back (and) not allow them to trigger their runs."
MSU's roster of 35 players allows for such a strategy. Seven players - three seniors, two juniors and two freshmen - redshirted last season so the Beavers could load up for their first NSIC season.
Spain said the top 11 won't start, but he'll work the substitution pattern so MSU's best players are in at the end of the game. He also said the midfield and the goalkeeping should be the team's strengths this season. Senior Ashley Barzcewski started the majority of games last season and classmate Marie Torres started eight in 2010 before redshirting last year.
"I think this is the best group we've had," senior center midfielder Tara McPartland said. "Fighting for spots is gonna be tough, but it's just gonna make each of us better. It's healthy competition trying to earn your spot."
During preseason practice, the Beavers installed a 4-2-3-1 formation.
"We're trying to put ourselves in a position where we can control the middle of the field better than we did last year and the year before and still be able to press their back line," Spain said. "It seems to be working pretty well; we've been forcing a lot of mistakes."
Despite MSU's 10th-place pegging in the preseason poll, the team is confident. Spain said an NCAA tournament berth is attainable and Kidd said the Beavers want to win the conference.
The team is hoping the return of its redshirted players and the addition of a large recruiting class could surprise some people.
"We all got so much more time to work together," Kidd said. "We were here all spring, all fall, and they (the players who didn't redshirt) got so much more experience."
The Beavers play two exhibition matches in Idaho on August 24 and 25 before their August 30 opener against Minnesota State University-Moorhead at Herb Parker Stadium.