Last year, the Wisconsin-Parkside Rangers didn’t lose a game until the second round of the NCAA tournament.
They did have three regular season draws, all in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, but breezed through the GLVC tourney, winning the championship and earning the top seed in the NCAA Midwest Region.
And then there’s this: they outscored GLVC opponents 41-5 during their remarkable season.
That was last year.
The Rangers lost the heart of the best defense in the country, and their top two scorers to graduation. Oh, and they lost their coach.
New Parkside head coach Brittany Nikolic doesn’t feel snubbed.
“It just speaks to the parity of the conference, and the strength of a lot of teams,” said Nikolic. “There’s a lot of talent in the conference.”
Bellarmine was one the three conference opponents the Rangers couldn’t beat last year – they played to a 1-1 draw on Parkside’s home field. The Rangers also had an 0-0 early season draw with Drury and tied Lewis 0-0 in their final regular season game. They finally lost in the Sweet 16, falling 1-0 to eventual champions Grand Valley State – the third time in four years the Lakers have ended Parkside’s season. Then in January, head coach Troy Fabiano, who built Parkside into an elite program, took a job at Division I UW-Milwaukee.
Nikolic, who said she’s happy for her team to play the role of underdog, does appear to have some big challenges.
Gone are Emily Konior and Karley Mecko, who contributed 17 goals combined to last season’s effort. And even more troubling, perhaps, Mecko was a defender and Konior a defender and midfielder – two key pieces of a defense that was best in the nation last year, giving up just six goals and recording 16 shutouts. Also gone from that defense is goalkeeper Mallory Geurts, who transferred to Milwaukee where she’ll continue to play for Fabiano.
“The core of the defense is gone, it’s definitely not the same experience level,” Nikolic said. “It’s going to be a different team.”
But the Rangers do return defender Kelly Trojak, who started all 22 games last year, and on offense Jillian Hetfleisch and Taylor Schiffer-Jander, who each scored seven goals last year, return. And Parkside will celebrate the return of Kaela Hoecherl, who led the team in scoring in 2013 with 10 goals, but missed last season with a torn ACL.
Nikolic said the new defensive unit is coming together nicely and the team is making a transition to a new coaching staff.
“It’s been great, the team has been very responsive to us and what we’re asking of them,” Nikolic said. “I’m quite pleased with how hard they’ve worked.”
And while not the same team as last year, Nikolic said, “we’re going to have a lot of the same strengths.”
Wisconsin-Parkside opens GVLC play on Sept. 11 hosting Saint Joseph’s.