The first several years of his program haven’t been exceedingly fruitful, but in the eyes of Kansas State soccer coach Mike Dibbini, that might actually help in a way.
K-State’s soccer team is entering its fourth season of an existence that can be described as flat but encouraging. The Wildcats won four games in 2016, their first year. Six games the next, including their first Big 12 win. Then, in 2018, they registered just four wins.
Yet K-State, which opens its 2019 campaign with road matches against Omaha on Friday and Creighton on Sunday, will kick off a new season relying on the experience of the seniors who have been with this organization every step of the way, through each of those first three seasons.
They are: Katie Cramer, Laramie Hall, Grace Brennan, Ashley Zane and Aly Rocha.
If you count goalkeeper Emma Malsy, who transferred prior to the 2017 season, the Wildcats’ roster includes six seniors.
“I think we’re a lot more confident,” K-State coach Mike Dibbini said. “(It comes from) the leadership and the character of our players learning so much in the last three or four years. The coaching staff bringing the energy and providing some good feedback, making it fun but still demanding. I think you have all those pieces put together, it makes a strong foundation.”
The confidence, Dibbini specified, isn’t baseless. There’s a reason: a shift in attitude among the coaching staff and players alike.
“Typically, in the past, we’re looking to survive, and to be hopeful,” Dibbini said. “I just feel like we’re hitting a trend where we’re more confident on creating chances for us to try to win the games instead of defending and being in a defensive mode all game. That helps quite a bit.”
Another change is in the fold. Malsy handled most goalkeeping duties last season, but redshirt sophomore Rachel Harris, who amassed a 4-1-2 record last year, will start at goalkeeper.
“She’s got a lot of experience,” Dibbini said. “She’s done really, really well, providing us some key moments in the game and giving us some confidence as we go into our first two games.”
K-State is hoping it can parlay these changes, in approach and in personnel, into its best season in program history.
The good news for the Wildcats is that they’re already off to a solid start.
On Aug. 9, K-State battled Arkansas — which received 45 votes in the latest United Soccer Coaches poll, good for an unofficial No. 29 ranking — to a 3-3 tie in a scrimmage.
Then, on Saturday, K-State routed Oral Roberts, 4-1. The Wildcats got goals from juniors Brookelynn Entz, Hannah Davis and Maddie Souder as well as one from Cramer.
Dibbini had lots to like. For one, cruising past Oral Roberts was important because the Golden Eagles brought roughly 1,000 fans to the match, “and they played off the energy of their crowd, which is good for us as far as adversity and playing through it,” he said.
“We remained composed,” Dibbini said, “and we got better in those moments.”
So the Wildcats will start the season with experience fending off road crowds.
The other part Dibbini liked was that his club rattled off 22 shots (six on goal) in the win over Oral Roberts.
“If we’re not scoring, we’re creating a lot of chances,” Dibbini said. “That’s an area that we haven’t been very good at, and we’re starting to figure it out. And playing together, making extra passes, doing the right things to give us a good opportunity around the goal.”
Make no mistake, though: Dibbini still wants to see improvement. It’s August, after all, and there’s room for that.
The Wildcats are just trying to turn improvements into wins — starting this weekend and on into this season.
“Defensively, can we get a shutout? We haven’t focused on the defense as much, but we focus on keeping teams away from our goal,” Dibbini said. “Offensively, don’t get shut out. Can we score some goals? We want to definitely go out and play our best and see if we can come away with six points this weekend. We’ll give it a go.”