Makana Pundyke (right) and Taylor Higa return to help lead the Wolves in 2015.
MONMOUTH — When senior Makena Pundyke arrived at Western Oregon as a freshman in 2012, the Western Oregon women’s soccer team was in a state of transition.
Head coach Steve Ancheta, then in his second season, was building the start of what he hoped would be something special.
Entering the 2015 campaign, and the Wolves are hungry to realize that potential in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
“I’ve seen a lot of progress from when I was a freshman to now,” Pundyke said. “I think our best year is to come.”
Whether the squad realizes that potential may come down to one big area.
At first glance, WOU’s biggest strength in 2014, its defense, should receive a boost this fall with the return of senior Brooke Steinberg. Steinberg started 18 of 19 matches in 2013 before knee injuries forced her to miss the 2014 campaign.
She figures to give another steady presence to a back line that recorded seven shutouts, tied for third most in the conference.
The defense’s biggest question mark will be at goalkeeper, after losing Amanda-Rose Johnson to graduation. Lindsey Mabinuori, the lone goalkeeper returning from last year’s roster, played in two games in 2014.
The Wolves hope to combat any growing pains at goalkeeper with an improved offensive.
Pundyke, who led the team in goals (four) and shots (38) during the 2014 season, will be called upon to help spur an attack that ranked sixth out of eight teams in goals scored in 2014 with 16, less than half of what GNAC Tournament champion Seattle Pacific (38) recorded.
“We need to lay our hat on something early on and that will be our defense,” Ancheta said. “But we have to score more goals, there’s no question.”
While Pundyke and Steinberg will be two of the squad’s most experienced leaders, some new faces could have a major impact on the team’s fortunes, including Phoebe Hendry a junior transfer from Mendocino College in California.
Hendry scored 10 goals and recorded 13 assists as a sophomore and is one of the reasons why players believe its offense is ready to break out.
“I think we played well against good teams because we played good defense against them,” Steinberg said. “I’m excited this year that we have so much talent and can move the ball better and play against people, instead of playing defense and hoping that we’re going to score.”
Entering their final season with the Wolves, Pundyke and Steinberg have their eyes set on a trip to the GNAC tournament.
After finishing fifth in 2014, players know that it won’t be easy — Seattle Pacific and Western Washington both qualified for the NCAA tournament last year.
“Our league is tough,” Ancheta said. “It’s going to be really tight and there are going to be a lot of close games. That’s not going to change. It’s only going to get tougher.”
Now, players are eager for a chance at a conference title.
“This is my senior year, so this is it for me,” Pundyke said. “With how much we have accomplished so far, I believe we can get to the final four and past it to the NCAA tournament.”