A promising spring proved Kansas soccer could potentially be set for an even more impressive season after its NCAA Tournament appearance in the 2018 fall season.
In their first four games of spring play, the Jayhawks allowed only one goal while scoring a total of 18 goals. Despite the 18:1 goal to goal-allowed ratio, the defense is the most important thing to keep an eye on for Kansas.
Through the first seven games of the fall season, the Jayhawks allowed two total goals.
Kansas started the year off with an emphasis on defense by forcing turnovers, putting pressure on opposing teams and converting defense to offense. The Jayhawks' defense looked prominent until it was put to the test against Texas A&M Sept. 16.
But, after being picked apart by the Aggies, the defense began to look torn and off its game. The Jayhawks played the remainder of the season rather inconsistent, looking broken some games and perfect in others.
One more season of experience and leadership and the defense could come to control itself. With four seniors leading the way, the unit might find a way to continue the aggressive play throughout the regular season, rather than drop off after non-conference play.
Senior defenders Elise Reina and Addisyn Merrick are notorious for their ability to quickly change the pace of the game. Merrick’s speed allows her to take the ball up the field swiftly, while Reina possesses a knack to make smart plays with the ball at her feet, as shown in her two goals and two assists last season.
The return of junior defender Isabella Cavalcante will also help the Jayhawks significantly. Cavalcante started seven games, averaging 68 minutes per game before being injured.
Along with the defense, sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Peters will have one season under her belt and could come back prepared. During her freshman season, the Kansas defense put so much pressure on opposing offenses that Peters rarely had to make saves.
After the Texas A&M game, Peters struggled more, being inexperienced when put against some of the top teams in the country. Peters has had plenty of time to improve this offseason, which was shown during spring play, and she still has plenty of time before preseason to strengthen and solidify her game.
If the defense can put enough pressure onto opposing squads and if Peters can become an even better goalie than she already is, the Jayhawks' defense could be one of the most unparalleled units in the nation.
However, the offense took hits that may force the defense into tougher situations this season, as it could be possible for the offense to be overwhelmed at points in the year.
The losses of forwards Taylor Christie and Grace Hagan, as well as midfielder Kaycie Young, will force the Jayhawks to find scoring from elsewhere. The leading scorer for the Big 12 last season, senior forward Katie McClure, will return for Kansas.
Along with McClure, junior midfielder Ceri Holland will also return. Holland could make an argument for being the best player on the roster through her aggression, strength and overall soccer IQ. Holland’s teammates have frequently vetted her as being the most aggressive player on the field.
Holland has power, which was seen many times when she sailed the ball feet above the goal. If she can learn to control that power, she could become one of the best scorers on the roster.
Besides McClure and Holland, Kansas will struggle to find scoring. It will be up to players such as Reina, Merrick or senior defender Eva Elíasdóttir to help put Kansas on the scoreboard.
The Jayhawks will have to find scoring from outside of McClure if they want to return to the NCAA Tournament. But with a defense that could be stronger than ever, Kansas may just make an even deeper run next season.