Underclassmen shine after team injuries


Emily Steil, midfielder, tries to secure the ball during the last minute of the second half against the Florida Gators. The game went into overtime after the second half ended 1-1 on Sunday afternoon.

Noah Rohlfing

Bad luck. Injuries. Late goals.

The three main descriptors for a season in Iowa State soccer that is trending toward the realm of the forgettable.

It’s hard to ignore the losses the Cyclones have endured, consistently providing solid performances without getting the rewards they arguably deserve. The NCAA Tournament seems a long way off at the moment.

Look closer though, and you’ll see that amidst of all of the frustrations and setbacks, a youth movement is afoot in the Iowa State soccer program, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

Coming off of a snub from the NCAA Tournament in 2016 despite a 10-8-1 record and a fifth place finish in the Big 12, Iowa State added eight incoming freshman to the roster. While it was expected that a few would play some spot minutes, the Cyclones were seen as a team with a veteran presence and a strong junior class.

Season-ending injuries to three starters in non-conference play changed all of that. There’s still a veteran presence, but some newcomers have taken on key roles on the side.

Through Sunday, the Cyclones have used 14 underclassmen over their 11 games this year. The Cyclones have been forced to utilize seven freshmen and seven sophomores at various points.

Young players who didn’t even travel with the team at the beginning of the season, such as sophomore forward Tegan Alexander and freshman defender Shealyn Sullivan, have carved out regular substitute roles for themselves.

Throughout the season, coach Tony Minatta has stressed the importance of youth and his happiness with the performance of the underclassmen. His experience working with Amateur Athletic Union teams in Colorado has helped his reputation for developing quality young players.

“They really are coming of age,” Minatta said. “We need them to compete in the Big 12.”

Freshman forward Courtney Powell has appeared in every game and started against South Dakota State, scoring twice and leading the team in goals. The speedy forward has terrorized defenses with her pace and movement off the ball.

Powell had her own injury scare recently, injuring her wrist against Florida. She has since been cleared for a return to action and featured against Texas and Baylor.  

Of the Cyclones’ eight goals so far this year, underclassmen have directly been involved in six of them. Leading the charge in the assist has been sophomore forward Hannah Cade with two.

Junior midfielder Emily Steil is ecstatic with the progress that young players have made this year. In 2015, the freshman class she was a part of (which includes five current Cyclone starters) fought for playing time and put together a foundation for the successful season the Cyclones had last season.

Steil loves what this year’s class has done and described what it’s like to watch them grow.

“I think it’s awesome,” Steil said. “It’s like a proud mom moment, we love to see freshmen come in and just kill it. We needed them.”

Another of the breakout performers for the Cyclones has been defender/midfielder McKenna Schultz.

Coming to Iowa State from Fossil Ridge High School in Timnath, Colorado, the freshman has started three games and made an appearance in 10 games, only failing to feature against Iowa. Marin Daniel’s season-ending injury has allowed Schultz to step up.

Playing as a right winger, she has provided competition for a starting position in Coach Tony Minatta’s new 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation.

Schultz is humbled by her increasing role in the team and excited for the future with this team.

“I think it’s going to be good,” Schultz said. “we’re going to have experience snd we’re going to use that going forward.”

The sophomores on the roster have made huge impacts as well. Goalkeeper Antonia Reyes has been in a battle for playing time all season with freshman Dayja Schwichtenberg, but Reyes played every minute of last weekend’s Big 12 games against Texas and Baylor.

For Reyes, it’s important to have trust in underclassmen to provide a spark.

“It means a lot to the team,” Reyes said. “We can trust them to come in and give us the energy we need off the bench.”

This is a team that hopes to be one of the best in the Big 12 sooner rather than later. This is a team that is fostering a culture built around trust and toughness.

In a season full of nearly and almost, the only certainty has been this: The future at Iowa State is bright.