Wright State women’s soccer takes momentum into league play

Pat Ferguson is no pessimist. The Wright State women’s soccer coach has had only one losing season in the Horizon League in his 13 years, and he expects a top-tier finish again this fall.

But he figured the Raiders would get roughed up during a challenging non-conference schedule — especially with some key players out — and he warned administrators at the school not to become alarmed if they saw a string of losses.

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“I told them, ‘We’re going to go into conference with a bad record — because our out-of-conference schedule is so tough. … You’re going to have to be patient. But you have to understand we have a very veteran group. I think we’re starting six or seven juniors and a couple seniors. They’ll be able to handle it. They’re not going to get crushed in terms of confidence,’” he said.

The Raiders started just as Ferguson predicted with an 0-5-1 record, including road losses to 11th-ranked Tennessee, 26th-rated Louisville and Cincinnati (12-4-3 last year) and a tie at home with defending MAC tournament champ Toledo. Almost every match was competitive, and some outcomes might have been flipped if the team had been at full strength.

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Junior forward Jordyne Helinski, who had four goals last season, is coming off a torn ACL and missed the first five games. Starting sophomore forward Brittney Petrosky (Vandalia Butler), who appeared in every game for the 12-8 Raiders last season, suffered a broken leg while playing last summer and is still working her way back. And junior midfielder Naomie Guerra had to miss the first two matches because she was competing in a World Cup qualifier for the Trinidad and Tobago national team.

But the Raiders ended their winless skid by beating St. Bonaventure, 2-1, in overtime last week and will go into league play at Oakland on Friday with some momentum.

“Defensively, we’re getting better and better each game. And I think now you’re going to start seeing us scoring some goals,” Ferguson said.

Senior forward Aaliyah Patton (Fairborn), a first-team all-league pick last season, has just one goal but has been in constant attack mode. She has 22 shots in seven games, while senior midfielder Mattie Cutts, another first-team pick, has the next-most shot attempts with eight.

Erin Graefen, who made the conference all-freshman team last year, has gotten off to a slow start but still leads the team with four points (one goal, two assists).

Patton, who is also a track star at Wright State, scored three times with seven assists in 2017.

“She’s just athletically so hard to handle,” Ferguson said. “If we can get her to be a little better in front of the goal finishing, she’s going to have a great year.”

Junior goalkeeper Maddie Jewell (Lakota West) allowed 0.97 goals per game last season, and while her average is 2.47 so far this year, Ferguson said: “In my opinion, she’s the best goalkeeper in our league. But we’ve been playing such tough competition, it doesn’t look like it.”

Jewell has been a model for younger players.

“I’ve coached 20-something years at the college level, and she’s one of the top kids I’ve ever had. She’s literally out there every day before practice working on stuff. She stays after practice. She’s a team captain. As a human being, she’s next level. As an athlete, she’s next level,” Ferguson said.

BASKETBALL: The Horizon League has done away with byes in its men’s and women’s tournaments. Only the top eight teams qualify, and quarterfinal games will be held at campus sites March 5-6.

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The semifinals and finals will be held March 11-12 at Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena for the fourth straight year. The men’s semis and women’s final are on ESPU, while the men’s title game will be shown on ESPN or ESPN2.

No decision has been made yet where to hold the tourneys after 2019.

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