By Corbin McGuire
Piles of dirt made way for concrete. A crane, metal beams, more concrete and cinder blocks all came together this spring to form the early stages of the K-State soccer team’s Buser Family Park.
It paralleled what the Wildcats, who cannot wait to play in their new facility when it’s finished this fall, were trying to do.
“There’s excitement, that’s for sure,” K-State head coach Mike Dibbini said.
“It’s just coming together,” he also said.
Dibbini’s first comment was about his team’s new facility, part of a $15 million project that will give the Wildcats a permanent home that will include an on-site locker room, player lounge, strength-and-conditioning center, coaches offices and sports medicine/rehabilitation area.
His second was about his team.
The Wildcats went 3-2 this spring, capped with three straight wins by a 10-2 margin. Their strong finish was a byproduct of a few areas they focused on building up when spring practices started back in late January.
Dibbini said offense was one of those.
This meant using the team’s experience to try to score more, especially in closer games. Dibbini and his staff tried to create an environment to foster this with what the team called “Competition Friday,” when games on shortened fields, to facilitate more scoring opportunities, took place each week. Goals for and against were tracked to create a way to win each week and the entire spring season.
— K-State Soccer (@KStateSOC) February 1, 2019
“It was good because we always want to come in training to compete but also putting them in the environment of being at shooting distance so they can work on finishing under pressure and creating chances under pressure,” Dibbini said. “It’s a mindset thing.”
In K-State’s last three games, its improved offense was also a chemistry thing. The Wildcats’ experience not only at the Division I level but also with one another began to show. They worked the ball up the field more effectively from line to line, a defense-with-offensive-possession type of style Dibbini has wanted to establish.
“We’re always trying to play better between the lines, but the relationships, the channels between our lines have gotten more comfortable and gained more experience,” Dibbini said. “That’s what’s helping.”
Also helping, K-State seniors Katie Cramer and Laramie Hall said, has been the team’s progress off the field. This spring, the two captains said the team’s culture became healthier, more positive and selfless. The Wildcats hung out more together outside of team-building activities coaches organized, and cliques became less defined.
“It’s easy to cluster and go to the same group every time,” Hall said, “but now we’re all one big cohesive group.”
“It’s showing on the field, too,” Cramer added. “Our soccer is getting better, our practices are good, but it’s definitely coming from things off the field. It’s always been emphasized but now we’re really understanding why, and it’s showing.”
There have been several examples of this during the spring.
Take the team’s 10 goals in its last three wins, for instance. They came from six different Wildcats. In last weekend’s road trip to Colorado, where K-State topped Colorado College, 2-0, and Air Force, 4-2, five different Wildcats scored.
“I think that says a lot,” Cramer said. “It was not, ‘I’m here trying to get my own or look good for Coach.’ It was, ‘Let’s play for the girl next to me.'”
“Selflessness is how I’ve seen it on the field,” Hall added. “Our motives are pure on the field. Everyone has that same mindset, so the whole team is just moving forward.”
Roles — big, small or just different from years past — have been bought into more wholeheartedly as well.
Dibbini named off Brookelynn Entz, Maddie Souder and Avery Green as a few of many examples of Wildcats who accepted playing in different positions or being used differently at her position. He also complimented his group of forwards, like Chloe Fisher, Christina Baxter, Hannah Davis and Cramer for taking more of a team-first approach in the final third.
“Collectively, as a team, we’ve gotten better,” he said, “but a lot of players are accepting their roles of doing what’s best for the team and realizing how they can use their strengths to impact the team.”
After close losses to Missouri (1-0) and Arkansas (2-0) to start the spring, K-State started to put it all together piece by piece. The Wildcats’ spring finale against Air Force was an exclamation point to an exciting finish.
K-State controlled the first half until a lapse led to an Air Force goal and a 1-1 score at halftime. A day after playing Colorado College, legs were tired but some passionate halftime words — a “hoorah moment,” Hall described it — lit a fire. The Wildcats outscored Air Force, 3-1, in the second half.
“The level was raised a few notches, not just one,” Cramer said. “That got me excited.”
“There’s always been that hump and we’ve always been close, but we just can’t get over it. Now, we’re getting over it, and we’re scoring and scoring more,” Hall said. “That’s exciting to be continually going forward. It’s not, ‘This is good enough.’
“No, we want more.”
Source: Kansas State Sports