Wright State soccer: Raiders looking to take next step and join league’s upper-echelon

FAIRBORN — Travis Sobers didn’t want to weigh his team down with high expectations and lofty goals this season. He’s shooting for the attainable, not the impossible.

The second-year Wright State women’s soccer coach is just looking to be more competitive, improve each week and, above all, qualify for the six-team Horizon League tournament.

The Raiders’ last appearance in the event was 2019, and their last win came in 2017.

“For us, realistically, we want to give ourselves the best chance we can to compete for a conference championship. That means getting to the conference tournament. I feel we’ve got a good chance to do it with the group we have,” he said.

Wright State’s three titles came in 1998, ‘99 and 2000 with runner-up showings in 1998, 2011, ‘14, ‘15 and ‘16.

“If you look at the conference the last couple years, it just came down to who went on a run,” the Trinidad native said. “It’s wide open. There’s five or six teams going into this year that feel they have a chance to win it.”

The Raiders, picked sixth in the preseason coach’s poll, believe they belong in that mix. Perennial all-league honoree Destiny Johnson graduated, but a solid returning nucleus has contributed to a 3-4 start after a 5-10-3 record last year.

Though they’ve lost their last three matches, they have wins over Miami and Central Michigan and are building a team-first mentality.

Asked to name the Raiders’ best asset, Sobers said: “The togetherness of the group. I feel we’ve done a really good job with that. Even the kids who aren’t playing a lot right now, we have a saying: ‘We have to win the bench.’ I think it starts there with how much they cheer for each other and want each other to do well. It’s helped us on the field.”

Sobers, who joined the staff as an assistant in 2013, was a star for the Wright State men’s team from 1998-2001. Those squads qualified for the league tourney each year, making at least the semifinals three times, and he knows how important the intangibles are in reaching the HL’s top tier.

“We’ve had a lot of the conversations with our upperclassmen, telling them: ‘Remember what your experience was as a freshman and sophomore and the things you wanted the upperclassmen to do for you. Try to do those things to help the younger kids come along,’” he said.

“And with recruiting, we’re making sure we bring in the right type of players who want to work for each other and want to be part of a team. It’s important to them. I think the freshman class gives us that. They’re good kids first and, obviously, good soccer players.”

Senior forward Olga Massombo made first-team all-league last season, finishing second on the team with eight points (three goals, two assists). And Centerville native Olivia Mace was an all-freshman team pick as a midfielder in 2021.

A new star also is emerging in freshman center back Kaylee Pham, a Springboro product. She seldom comes off the field, racking up a team-high 621 minutes.

“She does everything she’s supposed to do,” Sobers said. “She’s consistent and gives us that level of calm in the back. We know where she’s going to be and what to expect.”

Senior forward Kaylin Helinski is the top scorer with five points, including a team-best two goals, but offense has been an issue.

The Raiders, who begin league play against visiting Milwaukee at 5 p.m. Thursday (admission is free), have been outscored, 16-8, and opponents have gotten off almost twice as many shots (109-68).

Junior midfielder Lauren Borchert has taken 19 shots, while no one else has more than nine. And Sobers believes his players need to be less picky in sizing up scoring chances and become more aggressive.

“It doesn’t have to be the perfect pass or the perfect strike. It’s just about getting numbers in the box and putting yourself in a position to score goals,” he said.

“That’s one of the things we’re talking to the kids about and working on, and we’ll see if it translates when we get into the conference.”

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