Northern Kentucky University men’s and women’s soccer teams are set to start their seasons in the beginning of September.
After acquiring their first-ever NCAA championship last year in a 3-2 victory against Rollins University, NKU’s men’s squad comes into the season as the top-ranked team in the nation.
Men’s head coach John Basalyga understands that this is a completely new season with a different team. The defending national champions must now focus on the future and forget about the past.
“We have to instill in them the urgency of what the previous team has accomplished and what’s going to happen to them this year, because we’re going to be the biggest game on everybody’s schedule,” Basalyga said.
The team lost star forward Steven Beattie as a player, but gained him as an assistant coach.
“When you lose a player of that caliber, it forces everybody to play like we did in the national final,” Basalyga said. “The other team took him away from us and we still found a way to win. That’s what a team does — they adapt and move forward.”
Beattie is not finished playing, but his time as an assistant coach with the Norse will benefit him in the future, according to Basalyga.
“When he is finished with his playing career, I think he is going to be a great coach,” Basalyga said. “This is his life. This is a good formative year for him to get his feet wet in the coaching field. His expertise of how he sees the game will be greatly used.”
Each team in the Great Lakes Valley Conferece will be a challenge for the Norse this season. Basalyga said he strongly believes that it makes no difference which team they play.
“You can’t sit there and say who is a big game in this league because every game is a war,” Basalyga said. “This is one of the best, well-balanced conferences in the country. If you don’t have your game on, you’re going to get beat. There is always going to be upsets.”
Basalyga explained that the team has two goals each season. The first is to win one more game than last season. The second goal is to advance one game deeper in the national tournament.
“With winning the national championship, you can’t go any further; so we’re really putting pressure on winning more than 20 games,” Basalyga said. “If we can win 21, we’ll probably be where we need to be, or where we think we should be. It will be a challenge.”
NKU’s women’s team also has high expectations for the upcoming season, according to head coach Bob Sheehan.
“We really like our team,” Sheehan said. “I think we have a balanced team with tremendous senior leadership, and I’m pretty excited about getting started.”
Sheehan also knows that it might be a bumpy road at first. He said that getting the offense on the same page, while trying to score some goals, may be a challenge.
“You’re competing against yourself in many ways early in the season,” Sheehan said.
The Norse added six players to their roster this year, and Sheehan thinks the newcomers have adapted quickly.
“Right now we’re just about 10 days in and I think everyone is working exceptionally hard,” Sheehan said. “We’re looking for a total team effort and they’re all doing really well.”
The women’s team hiredformer NKU standout player, Steve Bornhoffer, as a full-time assistant coach.
Bornhoffer played four seasons for the Norse, finishing his collegiate career in 1997, and then became a graduate assistant for NKU’s men’s soccer team.
After that, he became the head coach for the boys’ soccer team at Newport Central Catholic High School and was there for the past eight seasons, while also coaching girls’ club soccer in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area for the past 13 years.
Bornhoffer believes that if everything comes together for the Norse, the team has a solid chance to make it far.
“We have a couple of girls hurt right now; but if we can get healthy and the chemistry is there, I think this team can go a long way,” Bornhoffer said. “This group has a lot of character and leadership, so I think they can put a stamp on the season.”
Both teams will travel to Ohio to face off against the University of Findlay in their season openers. The men will play at 4 p.m. Sept. 1, and the women will play at 4 p.m. Sept. 2.