Raiders get new life, will play in Horizon League tourney

Wright State gets into event because of COVID-19 issues with Oakland

FAIRBORN — Wright State soccer coach Jake Slemker was doing what he always does when a season ends: getting equipment stored away and conducting player interviews.

The Raiders had just missed the Horizon League tournament with its reduced four-team field after finishing fifth at 5-3-1, while Milwaukee squeaked in at 6-4. But then Oakland had to drop out Wednesday because of COVID-19, giving Slemker and his players a reprieve.

Asked how the team reacted, he said Thursday: “They were pumped. It’s definitely a little bit of a revival.”

Slemker was an assistant in 2013 when the Raiders received a similar break. After losing in the HL quarterfinals to Cleveland State, the Vikings were disqualified for using an ineligible player, putting Wright State in the semis against UIC.

“We’d already been done for at least a week,” he said. “We had to get on a bus and be in Chicago the next day. That was pretty wild.”

The Raiders didn’t take advantage of their second chance then, losing 1-0. But given their history and how they’ve been playing of late, they’re probably a team no one wants to see in the field.

They’ll take their first two-game winning streak of the season into their meeting with top-seed Northern Kentucky (7-1) on the road at 5 p.m. Sunday.

As Slemker said, “The last couple weeks, we’ve started to click.”

The Raiders lost their top three scorers from their magical 2019 season (the 2020 season was postponed until Feb. 4). They won the league tourney then and notched an NCAA first-round win over Notre Dame before falling at Michigan on penalty kicks.

Junior Zion Beaton and senior Alex Hummel, who are tied with transfer Joe Kouadio for the team lead with three goals, started in the tourney, as did seniors Harvey Slade and Brayden McNitt and junior Ids Hannema.

“There are guys still here who went through that. It’s got to give them some confidence in Sunday’s game for sure,” Slemker said.

The Raiders needed to find a goalkeeper this season, and Sebastian Jimenez emerged from the year-long competition. He allowed just seven goals in seven starts.

Kouadio also has had an impact after transferring from Valparaiso.

“He hadn’t played a game in a long time,” Slemker said. “Valpo’s program got cut, and then Covid (hit).

“He’s not even at his full potential yet. But he’s proven he can do it.”

The Raiders will need to tighten up some areas to prevail against NKU. They only scored 13 goals in nine matches (sixth in the league), while giving up 11.

“It was unique for us this year,” Slemker said. “We created a lot of chances, but we didn’t score a ton. And defensively, we didn’t give up a lot of chances, but we still gave up way too many soft goals.”

He added: “We knew with all the new faces in the program, it just wasn’t going to happen overnight. We needed a few games to figure it out and get guys playing with each other.”

Women’s soccer: The Raiders, who finished seventh at 4-5, were led by junior Josie Krupp with four goals and an assist, while freshman Lauren Borchert had three goals.

They went 10-6-2 last season but played without star forward Destiny Johnson, who was sidelined after undergoing ankle surgery. She’s expected back in the fall.

“It went about how I thought it’d go,” coach Pat Ferguson said. “It’s not excuses, but we’re very, very young. The first game, I started five freshmen and five sophomores.

“With a very young team, you have moments of brilliance and moments when you wonder what exactly they were thinking.”

Like the men, the women struggled to score. They had 13 goals while giving up 12.

They also had drama with their goal-keepers. Ferguson said their starter, Kiera Sarka. had to miss the season to deal with blood clots, and while redshirt freshman Jessika Seward filled in admirably, she missed the last game after suffering an eye-socket fracture.

Senior defender Erin Graefen was the keeper for a 2-0 loss to league champ Northern Kentucky in the season-finale.

“This spring was a nice hybrid between a season that wasn’t truly a season but, at the same time, had some of the pressure for what they’re going to see the fall,” Ferguson said.

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