Notebook: Freshman Cyclone emerges as team gains confidence


Then-freshman midfielder Claudia Najera blocks a TCU player while preparing to pass to her teammate from the outside in the Iowa State vs. TCU game Oct. 6, 2019.

Stephen Mcdaniel

Iowa State finds itself with a 3-9 record on the season and a 0-3 record in Big 12 play as it heads to Manhattan, Kansas, to face a Kansas State University team that is 3-9-2 on the season and 0-4 in Big 12 play.

Najera starts to find her role

One of the things going in the favor of Iowa State this season is freshmen players emerging to become key components of the young squad. Mira Emma and Abbey Van Wyngarden are just two of the freshmen who have placed themselves as key contributors.

There’s one more freshman who’s adding herself to the list: Claudia Najera.

While Najera has yet to record a goal this season, she currently leads the team in assists with three. She’s connected with Mira Emma twice for big goals, one leading to the game-winning goal against Omaha and the other leading to Emma’s golden goal in overtime against SIUE.

Her third assist came from Iowa State’s most recent game against TCU, crossing it to Courtney Powell.

“She [got crosses where they need to be] against SIUE, but now to do it against a team like TCU, now she’s getting more confidence because she’s done it against one of the stronger teams in the conference,” said coach Tony Minatta. “We’re looking at her to continue to contribute more in the attack, getting us forward and getting those crosses in and she does have the ability to score too, so we’d like to see if we can get her on the end of one of those crosses from the other side.”

The Cyclones have struggled with getting the ball in the net, but Najera is proving herself as a contributor moving forward in the season.

Najera stepping up and helping provide scoring opportunities will come to help the Cyclones greatly as they aim to get themselves into the Big 12 Championship tournament in early November.

“I think I’m getting used to my role. In the beginning, I was just kind of frantic, I was just a little nervous being a freshman,” Najera said. “But now I’m settling in, getting to know my teammates better, [practicing] and playing with them more.”

Confidence builds for the Cyclones

Despite dropping their last set of home games to Texas Tech and TCU, the Cyclones walked away from the weekend with a boost in their confidence as a team.

Minatta said Texas Tech and TCU are great examples of how the team has improved. He brought up how the Cyclones didn’t do as good of a job of pressuring the goal when they traveled to UCLA and Memphis, but said the performances against Texas Tech and TCU — who Minatta maintains are some of the toughest teams in the Big 12 — felt like the games were very winnable for the Cyclones.

In those games, the Cyclones took then-No. 18 Texas Tech to a double overtime before ultimately letting in the game-winning goal for the Red Raiders after a total of 108 minutes of play. Iowa State had some close scoring chances during the game, highlighted by a Van Wyngarden shot that beat the Red Raider goalkeeper and bounced off the right post.

The following game against TCU, the Cyclones broke their scoring drought when Courtney Powell put one in the back of the net off a cross from Najera. Iowa State held a 1-0 lead before TCU scored two unanswered goals.

“We know we’re right there with [Texas Tech and TCU],” said freshman goalkeeper Georgia Wimmer. “Obviously, there are things we can improve on, but one goal difference and losing kind of at the end of the games, we’re right there, so we just need to keep working hard and pushing and it’ll come.”

Iowa State shows growth

The Cyclones have seen big improvements on both ends of the field. The attack is starting to find better scoring opportunities and pressuring the goal as more and more players start stepping up and contributing.

The defense has been doing a better job at getting in front of shots and starting counterattacks. In its most recent games, the team has managed to slow down two of the strongest opposing attacks in the Big 12, even when Iowa State subbed in Wimmer to take the place of the injured veteran Dayja Schwichtenberg in goal.

As the team has preached throughout the season, even though their record doesn’t show it, Iowa State believes it has grown as a team and the continuing boost in confidence will only make the team better.

“I think they recognize that we played two of the toughest teams in the conference and moving forward, if we can keep that same energy and take care of more of the little things, we’re going to be in a much better position,” Minatta said. “We still have a lot of season left to play, so the energy is there and the attitude is good.”