SE: K-State Soccer 'Exceeds Expectations' in Inaugural Season

When K-State head women’s soccer coach Mike Dibbini was scheduling the program’s inaugural season, he did so with the intention of giving his team a solid amount of chances for success. What he didn’t expect was how tough the schedule would turn out to be. 

K-State finished its first season 4-9-3 and with an RPI of 211 out of more than 320 schools, both signs of an overachieving season in Dibbini’s eyes. A big reason why? As of Sunday, the Wildcats’ opponents have combined for a record of 146-111-34. Included in this group is Illinois State, which won the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title, Central Arkansas, which went 10-0-1 to win the Southland Conference, along with three other top-75 RPI teams in Saint Louis (63), Texas (69) and Central Michigan (71). 

“We played a very, very tough schedule. It should prepare for us for next year,” said Dibbini, whose team will take on an even tougher Big 12 schedule in 2017. “We may or may not see the same growth in terms of the results, but we will be a better team.”

Of the Wildcats’ nine losses, four came by one goal and none of them were by more than two. On the road, K-State drew with Creighton, which finished the year 9-6-2, and SIUE (8-7-3) while also beating Oakland and Omaha. At home, where K-State ranked fourth nationally with an average attendance of 2,265, the Wildcats went 2-1-1 that included consecutive 2-0 victories over South Dakota and UMKC. 

“We learned a lot about ourselves and what it takes to play at this level. We had such a variety of teams we played against that it allowed us to make a lot of adjustments during the year,” Dibbini said. “I felt like we overachieved in a lot of areas. It’s definitely difficult to start a program from scratch, but I think we’ve exceeded our expectations. I’m happy and I’m proud of the players.”

Another surprise, Dibbini said, was how quickly the individual talent on K-State’s roster “blossomed.” Six freshmen recorded at least 400 minutes of action and combined for eight of the Wildcats’ 16 goals scored. Laramie Hall, a freshman, tied sophomore Tatum Wagner as K-State’s top goal scorer with three. Dora Gallo, a freshman out of Wichita, was next with two. 

“They allowed me to know that with a little more work in the spring season and a little bit more seasoning, they’re going to be ready for the Big 12,” Dibbini said. “Now they understand the level they need to be at, plus turning it up three or four more notches. Paying attention to the details of the game is important for them. It’s important to carry this experience into next year.”

Dibbini, who graduated one senior in Abbey Fiser, said the ups and downs of the first season left a few other items on the team’s to-do list for the offseason. 

First, and most importantly, is developing a consistent mindset on the field. 

“The mentality of the game is the most important factor at this level,” he said. “You have to be sharp for the full 90 minutes and not let down for a quick minute or a quick two minutes because that can spoil the game. We have to limit our mistakes a lot more, pay attention to the details of the game and stay the course of the game until that whistle’s blown.”

The next item, which will naturally come with time, is creating a fluid chemistry for K-State between the three levels of the field. 

“It’s very difficult when you don’t have chemistry on the field. That’s what we’re leaning toward this spring, working on playing from the backfield to the midfield, connecting passes from the midfield to the forwards,” Dibbini said. “What happened this year is because of the lack of experience and the lack of chemistry, the connection between the backfield line and the midfield line was inconsistent and the connection between the midfield line and the forward line was inconsistent. That’s just a sign of a new team, young players mixed in with transfers and not knowing each other. It takes time.”

As much as it may pain Dibbini, he admits time is as big of a factor as anything in building K-State up to being a top half team in the Big 12. 

“It’s a marathon. It’s not going to be a sprint. I want it to be a sprint. We’re competitive, the coaching staff and the players, but it is what it is,” he said. “It’s going to be a few years before we’ll start seeing the fruit of what’s happening now.” 

Realistically, he said next season’s goals will include being one of the eight teams in the Big 12 to make the conference tournament. 

“It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s not something that can’t happen,” Dibbini said. “If we can build the chemistry this spring and if the new players who come in next year fit in fight away, I think we can make something happen. We’ll compete, we’ll get better and we’re excited about it.”