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UND WOMEN'S SOCCER: Sioux seek to start strong after last season's close-call ending

Before the UND women's soccer team began practice Wednesday, the Sioux gathered at midfield and chanted "finish" before drills got underway. The focus is a nod to last season's promising, yet oh-so-close ending to the Great West Conference tourna...

Before the UND women's soccer team began practice Wednesday, the Sioux gathered at midfield and chanted "finish" before drills got underway.

The focus is a nod to last season's promising, yet oh-so-close ending to the Great West Conference tournament. The Sioux lost in the league championship game in penalty kicks to Houston Baptist.

The postgame feeling from Houston remains strong with the Sioux, who open the 2011 season Friday against South Dakota at 1 p.m. at Bronson Field.

"Everyone is holding onto that, even the freshmen," UND coach Kristin Gay said. "It's tough to walk off the field and know you left it all out there. There's a sour taste in their mouths."

The Sioux finished last season 6-13, but defeated Howard and South Carolina State to open the Great West tournament.

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"(The end of last season) is a big motivating key for us," senior Rachael Loomis said. "It didn't turn out the way we wanted, but it threatens others in our conference now. The first year the rest of the conference might have thought we were a weak team."

The Sioux lost to Houston Baptist in penalty kicks, despite playing the overtime session a player down.

"It definitely puts a fire in us," UND captain Sheri Stapf said.

The Sioux, who return nine of 11 starters, lost just three seniors from last year's team, notably second leading scorer Alex Zarling and starting goalie Monica Stierman.

This year's UND team consists of 16 underclassmen of the 24 players. The Sioux have eight freshmen and eight sophomores.

Gay expects a handful of freshman to work into the mix, including a pair of first-year goaltenders who will enter a three-way battle for the starting goalkeeper position.

Sophomore goalkeeper Alex Ciaccio returns with two games played and three shots stopped last season. She will be challenged by newcomers Kristi Hestdalen and Mariah Paz.

Offensively, the Sioux return leading scorer Loomis, who had six goals and six assists last year. The Fargo native currently ranks fourth all-time in program history with 20 goals, tied for third all-time with 15 assists and fourth all-time with 55 points.

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"(Loomis) has had one of the best preseasons so far since she's been here," Gay said. "The expectations are high for her. We're going to lean on her, but we've also got a cast of players that can be very dangerous."

Stapf, a junior, said she's seen good signs this fall.

"The competition is so high ... the highest I think we've ever had," Stapf said. "We've got more depth this year and every player is good. We seem to have a different sort of confidence."

Miller reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1121; (800) 477-6572, ext. 121; or send e-mail to tmiller@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: UND SOCCERUND SPORTS
Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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