Photos by Paul Flessland
Adapting to personnel has been a common occurrence for Mark Cook’s Bison soccer team. Last year, it was the utilization of two strikers: two goal-hungry speedsters with elite ball skills with a mission of filling the net with goals. Two and three years ago, it was relying on experienced defenders to do their jobs with a bend-don’t-break mentality on the pitch. In other words, absorb as much as you can from opposing attackers and striking offensively on your own when the opportunity presented itself.
These previous strategies have worked. The Bison have finished in the top four of the Summit League since Cook took over in 2012, and they’ve kept their heads around the .500 mark. But these strategies have never delivered a Summit League championship.
That’s why the 2015 Bison soccer team have decided to flip the script and attack. It also doesn’t hurt that the last line of defense includes a 2015 Summit League Goalkeeper of the Year and a second team All-Summit League defender in the middle.
“Last year, we had the least goals-against in the Summit League and that was a big accomplishment for us. So this year we’re trying to attack more,” said senior defender and team captain Meghan Johnston, whose breakout junior year ended with All-Summit League accolades. “We’re more of an offensive-minded team this year.” Of course, it helps to think this way when the player in goal is the best in the Summit League.[/text_output]
[image link=”true” src=”4041″ alt=”Sierra Bonham was the 2014 Summit League Goalkeeper of the Year.”]
[text_output]Senior keeper Sierra Bonham has been the starting goalie for the Bison since 2012. She just became the career saves leader at NDSU, surpassing her predecessor Kalani Bertsch, who she got to sit behind during her redshirt season in 2011.
“I was very intimidated by the ten seniors we had and Kalani Bertsch because she was really good,” Bonham said before the Bison soccer team headed to Arizona for the NAU Mountain Classic. “I was nervous about the following year having to fill her shoes.”
The following year came and Bonham set the school record in saves per game with 6.29, which could have been a result of the team’s conservative “Park the Bus” mentality on defense.
In 2013, Bonham was introduced to new assistant coach Karli Kopietz, a former Bison goalkeeper who played for one season and won the 2005 Division I Independent Player of the Year.
“She’s helped me a lot,” Bonham said. “She’s definitely what gets me better every day so I owe her a lot. She’s always nitpicking things and she isn’t afraid to tell me what they are and she demands the best out of me and I really appreciate.”
2014 marked the best season for Bonham as she transformed into a full-blown star. She only allowed 17 goals in 18 games, the seventh-best goals-against per game in school history.
“She cleans up everything,” fellow Canadian, captain and roommate Johnston said. “It’s really nice to know that if you do happen to get beat or if someone gets a shot off within 20 yards that there are no easy goals going in with her.”[/text_output]
[image link=”true” src=”4043″ alt=”NDSU’s Meghan Johnston is a great defender for the Bison.”]
[text_output]If the past four years have told you anything about Cook’s mentality, you’d think the Bison strategy would be to lean on Bonham’s great goalkeeping.
They’ve done the opposite.
The 2015 Bison are running a 4-4-3 formation this year. In other words, they’re only using three defenders and are attempting to be the team on attack and are confident Johnston and Bonham will clean up opponent’s counters.
“We’re getting out on the attack and get forward and getting the first goal and getting the second goal,” Johnston said. “That really makes a big difference. We’re hoping that we will continue to do that coming up to conference play.”
Junior Lauren Miller has led the charge in goals scored this season with contributions coming from freshman Roxy Roemer and sand junior Amy Yang.
The ceiling for the soccer team with Bonham in net and experienced Johnston roaming the defense could be the highest the soccer team’s has been in awhile. And guess what, they know it.
Just ask Johnston, who claims, “We definitely have a chance of getting the Summit League championship this year so we’re going to the NCAA tournament.”[/text_output]