Author: Isa Sanchez-Esparza
St. Thomas is about to begin their second season as a Division 1 team and I’m about to begin my first season covering them, so let’s jump right in!
Lay of the Land
Last year, St. Thomas finished 9th in the 10 team Summit League – not shocking for a team jumping all the way from DIII to DI. And for those who watched closely, there were a number of games where at least *possible* points were dropped (Northern Iowa, Green Bay, NDSU, etc). If you don’t know a lot about the Summit League, the very short (and overly reductive) introduction is that Denver and South Dakota State essentially own the top two spots and everyone else is chasing them. What this means in practice is that most games are at least somewhat up for grabs. Meaning it’s not crazy for any one team to “surprise” a team above them on paper in any one game.
That kind of wide open landscape presents an opportunity for a team that finished 2021 in the bottom run of the standings to jump up to the recently expanded (from 4 to 6) Conference Tournament field with just a few improved results. St Thomas, for example, could have finished 6th with just two more additional wins (like against theoretically beatable opponents in Oral Robert, KC, NDSU, etc). Now, St Thomas can’t actually participate in tournament play while they are still in their probationary period from DIII to DI, but don’t think the coaches and players don’t have that tournament field marked as a goal in their minds. How sweet would it be to say “you’re lucky you didn’t have to face us in the tournament?” No better internal bulletin board material.
Trends to Track
One notable element of Head Coach Sheila McGill’s tactics last year was a willingness to play forward and refuse to park the bus as a theoretically undermatched team. The Tomcats attacked consistently finishing 4th in shots in the Summit League, including notching the individual shots per game leader in Abby Brantner (3.82 shots/game). Consider how willing they were to go forward, it’s impressive they were 6th in goals allowed – thanks in no small part to keeper Olivia Graupmann’s 3rd best in the Summit League save percentage. They played a fairly high line against the U of MN in a recent exhibition, and again against St. Cloud State. Watch to see if that continues.
Getting off shots doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a threat to score. How will St Thomas create real chances? Will they rely on counter attacking chances in space where Lexi Huber and Brantner can get on their horse and run onto the ball? Do they have the chops to finish off set pieces? Incoming transfer Mariah Nguyen scored a *bonkers* header on a corner kick against St Cloud State a few days back. So maybe they’ll have some variety in their attack.
Lastly, how will these young tommies grow over the season? Of the 30 players on the roster (pretty darn big for DI, by the way) only 8 are older than freshmen or sophomores. That is…wild.
What to Watch For
Here are some immediate things I’ll be looking for in the first few games:
Style of Play: As I mentioned earlier, St. Thomas has a lot of new additions to their team this year, and figuring out how to use them won’t be easy. I want to see how, as players and coaching staff, they tackle this particular obstacle and who works best with who, and under what circumstances. How will these circumstances change game to game? I’m most excited to see which of these girls work best together.
Level of Intensity: Watching their exhibition game against St. Cloud State, the Tomcats put in immense effort against the Huskies. But when they reached their 2-0 lead, they seemed to have settled into their comfort too early. The Huskies managed to increase their odds by scoring a goal in the last 15 minutes or so of the game, giving them a 2-1 score. While it’s always good to be relaxed instead of panicked (god I hate when this happens), it’s important to keep up the intensity in a game so you don’t risk getting complacent. Intensity looks different on each team, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it looks on the Tomcats, and how it will develop throughout the season.
Immense Subbing Strategy: While watching their exhibition matches, one factor that stayed the same all throughout these games, was the amount of subs that happened all throughout. It’s an interesting strategy that I’ve seen from Head Coach Sheila McGill, and it seems to be working very well for them. First, what I like about this strategy is that it gives most players opportunities to get minutes and real experience at the DI college level. What makes me weary about this strategy, is that it could possibly prevent chemistry from being made with the players to create scoring opportunities. It’s a strategy that helps everyone on the team, but at a possible cost for slow chemistry to be built. With that being said, I’m very curious to see if this rapid subbing strategy continues throughout the season!
Possession: I will admit, this one is just purely one I enjoy paying attention to. As a former central defensive midfielder, I always enjoy a team’s tactics when it comes to possessing the ball. St. Thomas has already proven that they can possess the ball, and that they can do it well at times. But what I’m most excited to see is how they can take this part of their strength to help boost other parts of their play. Will their possession help in their attack (or even in their defense)? Will it give players a chance to keep calm, and catch their breath? (I personally love when that’s the case – playing is a tough job, let me tell you). Or will it give them a chance to use up all their energy to catch the opponent off guard, and win them a golden opportunity to score? (These are my personal favorite moments).
While I’m still learning the ropes of this whole journalism thing, the most important thing to me is that the girls at St. Thomas are having fun while playing. I can’t wait to watch them develop as players, and as a team. This season is going to be a fun one, and I can’t wait!
The Tomcat’s first game is today at 4pm. They will be hosting Green Bay, at South Athletic Field!
Hope to see you there!
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