On Friday the season will begin in earnest as NC State battles San Diego at 10:30 p.m. in its season opener. The Wolfpack will then return to action in the Torero Classic will a showdown against No. 10 Pepperdine.
In its season opener the Pack will take on a host team in San Diego that reached the NCAA Tournament last season. Although NC State will be over 2,500 miles away from Dail Soccer Field, it will still be a home away from home.
Head coach Tim Santoro has made a point to recruit heavily in the Southern California area. The freshmen class for the upcoming season features four players from San Diego. Santoro is happy they will begin their college career in a familiar spot.
“It is key for the ones that are here now as freshmen to be able to go back home,” Santoro said. “That was part of their recruiting spiel but also we have a lot of kids that we are looking at in the ‘17, ‘18, and ‘19 classes out west and they get to come see us in person against two really good teams.”
“We are recruiting nationally and internationally so getting out to California is big for us but we need to go out do well,” the third-year coach added. “You can’t just go out there.”
Last year was tough for NC State as its star player Jackie Stengel--who finished Third Team All-ACC as a freshman in 2013--suffered a season-ending knee injury at Georgetown in the third match of the campaign. This season the redshirt-sophomore has been named a co-team captain and she is bullish on the squad heading into a campaign where the Wolfpack will battle several of the nation’s elite teams.
“This is probably one of the better preseasons we have had with the intensity,” Stengel said. “We are more like a team as people are liking each other, more for each other and playing more off of each other. We hope to definitely be a .500 team this year. Making to December is obviously the goal but I think we will just take it one game at a time.”
Easily the best conference in the nation, the ACC is not for the meek. If NC State is going improve in 2015, the Wolfpack will have to navigate through a league that features several title contenders. Not that it is anything new according to Santoro.
“Every year it is pretty much the top conference for women’s soccer and I think it is as good as any conference, any sport, and any gender,” Santoro said. “We’ve had, I think, eight different teams in the Final Four in the last seven, eight years. We had both finalists last year and of course the National Champion. Two years ago we had three in the Final Four so it is always that way.”
To get to the point where the Wolfpack reach the ACC Tournament--which has only the top-four schools compete for the conference title-- the NC State coaching staff has sought to add depth from all over the nation and the Pack’s season opener represents a great chance to be seen.
Senior midfielder Jenna Kalwa, who transferred from Penn State after the 2013 season and is a co-captain along with Stengel, feels that the program is growing and can take another step forward this fall--with it showing in practice during the summer.
“I see it growing,” Kalwa said. “[Santoro] knows what he is doing so every class he gets in here you will see that. The team will continue to get bigger, deeper, better, and stronger. If we can leave a legacy, a habit that is still continued, that is the goal.”
“It all starts at practice,” Kalwa added. “Tim talks about it all the time. You step on the practice field ready to compete. Our team has brought it and you have to. Last year wasn’t our year but that doesn’t mean this year will not be.”
While the ACC beckons, there is still a solid non-conference slate to begin the campaign. To get to a point where NC State is among those in the top of league, Santoro feels that the Pack can use the games in California as a starting point to build up steam.
“We will be prepared but the key is to set ourselves up for that in the non-conference,” Santoro said. “Get some wins, go into it with confidence. We have never done that before and I think if we can go into it with some wins under our belt and believing we can play we will be fine.”