Soccer firing on all cylinders

Griffon soccer is off to an outstanding start in its young season. Western defeated Lindenwood Sunday afternoon 2-1 in their last tune-up before their conference season begins on Friday against Central Oklahoma. “The second season starts Friday in Edmond and we've got to be ready to bring it,” Griffon coach Chad Edwards said. Hosting the Lions, the Griffons jumped out to a lead in the 33rd minute. Taylor Gant scored her first goal of her career as she dribbled the ball up to the midfield, roaring past the Lions’ defenders before striking the ball past goalkeeper Jordan Gnolfo. “I’ve talked to her about having confidence moving forward, because she’s obviously super fast,” Edwards said. “That was an unbelievable run. She started at midfield, beat a couple players and had a great finish. I told the players at halftime, everybody has to make runs like that.” Gant, mostly known for her defensive exploits, was a second team all-conference player last season despite not being an offensive threat. “She is a tenuous defender who keeps us in games,” Edwards said. Just before the halftime break, Lindenwood was able to tie the game. Danielle Torry scored her first goal of the season for the Lions in the 43rd minute as Western was unable to clear a ball played into the box by Jackie Linder, and Torry was able to sneak the ball past Griffon star keeper Sarah Lyle. In the second half, Western got back on the attack and pressured the Lindenwood defense relentlessly early in the half. “I love the response after they scored,” Edwards said. “We gave ourselves some chances to score and we figured some stuff out offensively.” All of that attacking finally paid of in the 72nd minute, as Sydney Cluck connected with Bailey Dervin who put the ball in the back of the net for the eventual winner. “That was a great goal,” Edwards said. “The game-winning goal was one of the best goals we’ve scored.” Seeing Dervin have that moment was special for Edwards because of all the adversity Dervin has overcome. “Bailey suffered a horrific injury last September,” Edwards said. “This is a special weekend for her, because she was in the hospital and here she is scoring the game-winning goal. She was told she potentially might never play again and then to come back a year later and score the game-winning goal... Pretty cool.” Western used its strong defense and the talents of Lyle to hold on to the win. Lyle came up with her biggest stop of the day on a shot in the 87th minute off the foot of Taylor Robinson. “Pretty nerve-racking there at the end,” Edwards said. “Sarah had an unbelievable save.” The team is in Oklahoma for their first two conference contests next weekend against Central Oklahoma and Northeastern State, but returns home on Friday, Oct. 2, when they face Missouri Southern.

Griffons victorious over Harding

The Griffons began their season with consecutive victories, defeating Harding University 2-1. Western once again brought the offensive attack. With the use of 23 shots, 13 on goal, the Griffons found the net twice. Both goals were scored by midfielder Bridget Blessie, which already matches her previous season total. However, it was a total team effort by Western, as nine other Griffons recorded a shot on goal. Blessie was assisted by Layne Sheppard, who picked up her second assist of the season, and Cassidy Chappell, for her first assist of the season. At the other end of the field, goalkeeper Sarah Lyle had a four-save performance, allowing only one goal. The Griffons will take their 2-0 record to Minnesota, facing Bemidji State this Friday, Sept. 11, at 3 p.m. and Minnesota-Crookston Sunday, Sept. 13, at noon.

Griffons claim victory in new turf debut

Despite the renovations at Spratt Stadium not being entirely finished, the Griffons found their way to victory on the brand new turf, beating the East Central Tigers 3-1. The Griffons found the net three times Friday evening with Nikki Birr, Sydney Cluck and Layne Shepherd scoring their first goals on the season. Midfielder Birr connected in the first half for the first goal of the new season. Birr scored in the 40th minute, receiving an assist across the middle from midfielder Shepherd. Birr’s goal gave the Griffons a 1-0 lead going into the second half. Midfielder Cluck put Western up 2-0 in the 58th minute, netting her kick from just outside of the penalty box. The Griffons would continue to dominate late into the second half. Shepherd was involved in the offensive attack yet again, this time putting the game out of reach by scoring her own goal in the 72nd minute. The game was in its closing minutes when East Central found their way onto the scoreboard. The Tigers cashed in on a corner opportunity when Deanna Rudasill headed the volley into the net. The Griffons went on to claim the 3-1 victory over East Central. Western’s offensive tallied 22 shots, 13 of which were on goal, in the season debut.  Of the 10 shots East Central put up, nine were on goal. Goalkeeper Sarah Lyle had eight saves before losing her clean slate in the final minutes. The Griffons will carry their 1-0 record into Sunday’s match up against Harding University. Kickoff is set for Sunday, September 6 at 2:30 p.m.

Breeding a winning environment

Sophomore defender Paige Phipps clears ball in game last season. Senior Sydney Andrews and junior goalkeeper Sarah Lyle look on.
[caption id="attachment_24861" align="alignnone" width="300"]Sophomore defender Paige Phipps clears ball in game last season. Senior Sydney Andrews and junior goalkeeper Sarah Lyle look on. Sophomore defender Paige Phipps clears ball in game last season. Senior Sydney Andrews and junior goalkeeper Sarah Lyle look on. - File Photo[/caption] Defense wins championships. That saying has been around in sports for years ever since legendary college football coach Bear Bryant first uttered it. Although it is one of the most overused sports cliches, Griffon soccer coach Chad Edwards’ team will look to ride its basic premise to an even better season in 2015 than they enjoyed in 2014. Boasting a defense that allowed less than a goal a game, Western finished the season with an 9-8-1 regular season record, the first winning season in program history and first MIAA tournament appearance. “Our expectation was always to do what we did last year, it was just a matter of getting that accomplished,” Edwards said. “Now that we’ve accomplished that, certainly that's the expectation to get back to the MIAA Tournament, but now let's win a game. We’ve always said that our goal is to win a conference championship and if you’re not in it for that, then you shouldn’t be playing.” Leading the Griffon defense is junior goalkeeper Sarah Lyle. Lyle is coming off a sparkling season of her own, as she allowed .85 goals per game. This was the 60th best team average in all of Division II and good for the fourth best in the MIAA. “It always makes a soccer coach feel really, really good when you have a good goalkeeper,” Edwards said. “(She’s) a great leader and a great kid.” Lyle’s 2014 performance earned her Second-Team All-MIAA honors. The Duluth, Minnesota, native has been a key for the Griffons the past two seasons, and now with two years remaining in her eligibility, she will be even more relied upon as a leader. “Her first year, we had a scrimmage game with Avila and she did really, really well in that game and the Avila coach at the time said, ‘that’s an all-conference player’ and low and behold in her sophomore year she’s all-conference,” Edwards said. “So she was an upperclassmen when she started from a playing-ability standpoint.” Of the Griffons’ nine wins in 2014, eight of them were shutouts by Lyle and the other talented defensive players on Coach Edwards’ squad. Three defenders in front of Lyle also found themselves with all-conference recognition. Junior Taylor Gant joined Lyle on the MIAA’s second-team. Senior Sydney Andrews represented the Griffons on the third-team while sophomore Paige Phipps finished her first season in St. Joseph by earning honorable mention honors. “Its really helpful to (have them back) because then I know that my job behind them is to communicate and control the field from the back where I can see everything, but having those girls in front of me has been such a great opportunity for me to be able to succeed,” Lyle said. With so much talent returning to prevent opponents from putting the ball in the back of the the net, Coach Edwards knows the next step for his program is to develop a consistent offensive attack. “That’s the big thing: we’ve got to find a way to score more goals. We’re always going to defend really well, but now it's a matter of keeping the ball and giving ourselves (chances),” Edwards said. “We gave ourselves a lot of chances last year. We broke the school record for shots on goal, but now we have to break the records for goals. So we've got to create those chances again and execute. It's about that final product.” Unfortunately for Western, they will have to attempt to do that without star forward Tara Russell who graduated after serving as a starting forward for the past two seasons. The second-team all-conference selection in 2014 led the Griffons with four goals last season, including three game winners. The Griffons also must replace their second-leading scorer in K.C. Ramsell, who scored three goals from her midfield position. The legacy of players like Russell and Ramsell continues to affect the winning culture they helped develop, and has impacted recruiting. “Winning breeds winners and that next-level type of player and we’re raising the expectation of the player that comes in competing for a job,” Edwards said. One of the high-level recruits that will look to change the offensive woes the program suffered from last year is Iowa State transfer Cassidy Chappell. “She’s done some nice things,” Edwards said. “We’ve only been (practicing) together for a day as a group and she’s done some nice things.” The forward comes to Western with two years of eligibility remaining. She was a highly-decorated high school player at Owasso High School in Oklahoma, earning first-team all-conference honors three times. Anchoring the midfield for the Griffons will be a pair of seniors Katie Kempf and Drew Mantio, along with the sophomore duo of Bridget Blessie and Sydney Cluck. Kemp will be looked to to lead the group. “Katie Kempf is a fifth-year senior and understands what it takes to have success at this level,” Edwards said. All four of the premier midfielders for the Griffons registered a goal last season, with Blessie knocking in two. The four combined for 62 starts in 2014 and with that much experience returning, the team hopes to continue setting new program bests in 2015. “We just want to take that ball and keep rolling, because once you get it started it's much easier to keep continuing with it, but it still won’t be a light season,” Lyle said. “We really are going to have to push hard and keep continuing with what we have.”

Board moves forward, approves Spratt Stadium project bonds

On Friday, Nov. 21, the Board of Governors at Missouri Western voted to approve and proceed with the $5.5 million auxiliary system revenue bond issue to pay for improvements and renovations to Spratt Memorial Stadium. Final terms of the bond issue will be approved at a later date by the Board, but the resolution allows the university to execute a purchase with Edward Jones as underwriter and Gilmore & Bell as bond counsel. This vote essentially allows the university to make improvements immediately. In a recent press release, Western President Dr. Robert Vartabedian stated that since 1979, the stadium has served our community well, but it's seen better days. "This project will help ensure the comfort and safety of our campus community and visitors for years to come while providing a new revenue stream for our athletic program," Vartabedian said. Spratt Stadium was completed in 1979, named in honor of avid Griffon supporter Elliot "Bub" Spratt. It was constructed for a total of $850,000. The first football game played on the field was a 44-0 victory over Dana College on Sept. 8, 1979. Six years later, lights were added and the Griffons won the first night game over Missouri-Rolla 24-15 on Sept. 4, 1985. The first soccer game played on the field was a 3-2 victory over Concordia-St. Paul on Sept. 3, 2006. In 2006, the natural grass field was replaced by ProGrass synthetic field turf. Three years later, the visitors' grandstand was remodeled and expanded, which increased the seating capacity to 7,200, plus standing room and hillside seating. On Oct. 3, 2009, the Griffons hosted Northwest Missouri State and their largest crowd at 10,129 spectators. They hosted their first NCAA Division II playoff game against Northwest on Nov. 19, 2011. A year later, they celebrated their first home playoff victory after a 57-55 triple overtime victory over Minnesota-Duluth. In 36 seasons at Spratt Stadium, Griffon football is 129-69-3. Griffon soccer is 20-46-9 in eight seasons. The cost balance that won't be covered by the bond issue will come from private support already in hand. As of now, there is no plan on adding a fee to students tuition and none of it should be coming from students' Max Experience. Planned improvements will cost an estimated $7.8 million. Because Spratt Stadium is a revenue-producing auxiliary facility, Western is able to pledge future revenues to cover debt service. That option is not available for academic or administrative facilities under state law. However, the Missouri Western State University Foundation is going to continue to raise additional private support. Currently proposed aspects of the project will include: the demolition of current concourse, concession area, restrooms, Stadium club and press box; construction of a new concourse, concessions area, restrooms, club level (including suites) and press box; repairs and improvements to the home grandstand seating area, including more chair-back seating; removal of the old track and relocation of the field closer to the home stands; relocation of the visitors' side grandstands to be closer to the field; new field turf to replace the current surface; and addition of a video board. The plan is to have the improvements finished before the Fall 2015 sports season, although there is some speculation that it will not be completed by the first game. Defensive back, Michael Jordan, is excited about the renovations for the stadium, particularly the video board. "This means a lot," Jordan said. "Us having these new facilities, it's going to help with recruiting... I think it is going to be top stadium in the conference with the new scoreboard, indoor [complex] and stadium. I don't think there's anyone who can compete with what we're going to have as far as facility-wise." Head football coach Jerry Partridge is equally happy about the future plans for the stadium and what it means in terms of recruitment for football. "Oh, I'm really excited," Partridge said. "I'm excited for everybody. I think it's going to be a good experience for everybody... Recruiting-wise we'll use it. Obviously, its going to be a great place you can show them. It won't be ready this winter, but it'll be something you can walk through. It's just going to be a great tool in that area for us." He also noted that the atmosphere is going to change with having the field closer to the stands. "Fan experience is going to be better," Partridge said. "Just having the field closer, the jumbotron, you name it and it'll be a great experience for everybody." Dr. Cale Fessler, vice president for financial planning and administration, said that current economic conditions are favorable for a bond issue. A true interest cost of bond financing would be low, at aboue 3.34 percent over a 20-year issue. Debt service on the bonds would be approximately $380,000 annually. The history and future of Spratt Stadium are to be celebrated during a special event for fans, community members and current and former players. That event is to be scheduled when demolition and construction are set to begin.