Forward Marcella Sizer, who racked up 15 points and six goals last season, has been coming back slowly from a foot injury that plagued her at the end of last season. But the 2022 HL Offensive Player of the Year is close to being fully cleared.
Sobers also pointed out that defense is always the priority in preseason practice, and the staff has needed to keep pounding away at that because of the team’s youthful roster.
Nine of 10 freshmen and six of nine sophomores are playing meaningful minutes.
“There’s a lot of teaching going on in that first month or so. (Offense) is the last piece we’re trying to incorporate and work on,” he said.
“It’s taken us a while. And we’ve played a lot of good teams, too, that haven’t given us many easy looks. That part has been really tough. But it’s nice to know we’re getting there.”
The Raiders (2-3-2) beat Akron, 2-1, at home Sunday — yep, they doubled their total goals in one game. And the win was an ideal springboard going into league play at 5 p.m. Thursday at Green Bay.
Freshman forward Sophia Kuerze notched one goal, while Sizer tallied the game-winner.
The Raiders, who have given up 13 goals, were out-scored 33-29 while going 8-7-3 last season and 30-21 while finishing 5-10-3 in Sobers’ first season in 2021.
“If we want to compete in the league, we have to minimize opportunities. The last couple seasons, even though we scored a lot, we also gave up a lot of goals. Coming into this season, being better defensively was important,” Sobers said.
Having Sizer in peak form will help when it’s time to attack. The 5-foot-11 Waynesville product is taking advantage of an NCAA pandemic rule and suiting up for a fifth season.
She’s only the second Raider to earn the league’s top offensive award, joining 2018 winner Aaliyah Patten.
“She’s just so dangerous,” Sobers said. “She has good pace. She’s strong. And defenders hate to play against her because she’s hard to get the ball off of.
“There’s not a lot of players in college who have her size and skill set. She’s intimidating.”
Senior midfielder Lauren Borchert earned second-team all-league honors last year, but she’s one of just a handful of veterans on the roster.
Knowing he needed to build team chemistry quickly, Sobers scheduled road games against Arizona State and Grand Canyon to open the season.
The Raiders lost both matches, 4-0. But the trip was a success in other ways.
“It was amazing,” Sobers said. “For a lot of girls, it was their first time out there. They hadn’t been to the Grand Canyon. We had a day off between games, and we went to see it.
“There’s nothing that can replicate being together and being around each other for a long period of time like that.”
The Raiders will need every edge they can find in the league. They were picked seventh among 11 teams, while Milwaukee was the overwhelming favorite to repeat as champs.
The Panthers have won or shared 21 of the last 23 regular-season titles. But the league as a whole has had an impressive non-conference season, posting a 34-28-19 record.
“Obviously, Milwaukee is the standard-bearer, and everyone is trying to beat them. But from 2 to 9, anyone can beat anyone,” Sobers said.
“As a coach, it’s exciting to know it’s going to be that competitive, but it’s also like, man, you have to show up every day because you can lose to anyone.”