For the first time in history, Kansas City Kansas Community College's women's soccer team will enter a new season as the defending Jayhawk Conference champion and nationally ranked. But also will come with a big bullseye for Jayhawk rivals.
"Anytime you start a season with a national ranking, there will always be a target on your back," says sixth year head coach Shawn Uhlenhake of his 16th nationally ranked Blue Devils. "We've had a lot of success against conference teams the last two seasons so they'll be coming very hard at us. If you want to be a nationally ranked team, you have to beat a nationally ranked team and that's us."
The Blue Devils open the season Wednesday when they'll host Neosho County at 5 p.m. and then entertain Cowley College Saturday at 2 p.m. in a collision of last year's East and West champions.
The last two seasons, the Blue Devils won 25 games, more wins than KCKCC had won in its first seven seasons. The 2019 team finished 13-4 (most wins ever); the 2020-21 team 12-4-1 and earned an at-large berth in the NJCAA DI national tournament along with the Jayhawk championship.
However, graduation took eight starters from those two teams, leaving Uhlenhake with only six returnees around whom to build. "We'll be leaning a lot on our sophomores," says Uhlenhake. "Although there's only a handful, we think they'll be up to the challenge and the freshmen will follow the lead. It's hard to explain to the freshmen what they're getting into. With so many newcomers, they have to see it to believe it."
Heading the list of returnees is 5-5 midfielder Katharina Oelschlager, a COVID freshman from Germany. The Jayhawk Player of the Year last spring, Oelschlager scored 13 goals and had nine assists. Also returning to the starting lineup will be midfielder Kaylee Shaw of Leavenworth, defender Grace Runyan of Blue Valley and goaltender Suzie Lopez of Turner, who has moved to a forward spot this spring. Also returning are midfielder Piper Newell of Wichita and defender Samantha Wojahn of Park Hill,
Uhlenhake's biggest concern is at forward where he has no returnees. "It's really critical because it's an unknown position and you have to score goals to win," he says. Lopez, who played one game at forward last spring and scored a goal, will be joined by freshmen Gabby Lopez of Platte County, Rand Tabb of Ruskin of Ruskin and Addison Leonard of Park Hill South on the front line.
Strength will be at the midfield position where Oelschlager, Shaw and Newell all return. "They're good leaders and organizers; we'll need their experience," says Uhlenhake. Freshmen Lena Bauer of Germany, Jasmine Alcantara of Raytown South, Aislann Harrison of Staley, Samantha Calderon of Sumner Academy and Rosana Kasemier of the Netherlands make for a deep and talented midfield corps.
Runyan is the only returning defensive starter although Wojahn saw playing time and William Penn transfer Zoe Ganley has playing experience. "Runyan is a great leader and that's huge," says Uhlenhake. Freshmen defenders vying for starting berths include Kate Erpelding of Eudora, Kayleigh Sumier of Belton and Ellie Heimann of Wichita Kapaun-Mt. Carmel,
Leah Williams, a 5-9 freshman from Eudora, will be in goal. "She's got length we haven't had before, is a good shot stopper and will challenge and take team's best shots," says Uhlenhanke, who is again being assisted by Jefferson Roblee.
The Blue Devils will play a 13-game schedule with all games against Jayhawk Conference rivals. Also, all games will be played either on a Wednesday or Saturday. Butler County at No. 11 is the only other Jayhawk Conference team ranked nationally. Butler and KCKCC will collide in the Blue Devils first road game Sept. 8 and then Butler will be at KCKCC Oct. 12.