KU soccer setting big goals for '17 season

Kansas junior forward Lois Heuchan slides to the turf after scoring the game-winning goal against Missouri in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016 at Rock Chalk Park. Senior Hanna Kallmaier (23) pumps her fist in the background.

After finishing second in the Big 12 regular season race in 2016 and as runners up in the Big 12 tournament the year before, the Kansas women's soccer team is looking to end on a different number in 2017.

"We'd like to do what (volleyball coach) Ray (Bechard)'s group did last year," coach Mark Francis said, "and actually have a trophy to bring back."

To do so, Francis said, some things will have to be different.

As the Jayhawks met Sunday following their lone exhibition match prior to the fall season, a 1-0 loss to Iowa, they laid out their goals for year, among which were winning both the Big 12 regular season and tournament championships.

That was met by a response from assistant coach Bri Young, who asked if the players had ever accomplished that feat. Upon hearing the response — they had not in the same year — the focus shifted to the process of how the team could get there, eventually leading to a new mantra of six pillars for daily success.

"You've got to change the input if you want a different output," Francis said. "And I preach that to the kids all the time."

Among those tasked with enforcing that mantra will be Grace Hagan, a junior forward named first-team all-Big 12 in 2016. Hagan, who spent some time in Seattle as part of a U.S. U-23 National Team camp this summer, started 40 games over the last two seasons and entered 2017 as one of 30 players on the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List for the top men's and women's collegiate soccer players. However, that experience isn't necessarily widespread.

While there will be a veteran presence between seniors Maddie Dobyns, Lois Heuchan, Kayla Morrison, Hannah Lukinac, the Jayhawks are replacing more than half of the starting lineup from 2016 and they'll be doing so without four players who have already come down with season-ending injuries.

"It's really an opportunity for somebody else," Francis said. "The ones that are healthy are going to get to play a lot."

As for who could fill some of the vacant roles, Francis listed sophomore Sophie Maierhofer, who rejoined the team after playing in the UEFA European Championships with the Austrian team this summer, and freshman Kathryn Castro as two players expected to see significant time in the midfield. He also noted Lukinac, Ole Miss transfer Madison Meador and freshmen Ceri Holland and Avery Hall could all compete for minutes in that area.

But with seven underclassmen already starting in the first exhibition game and several more expected to contribute to a 2017 squad that was picked by the coaches to again finish second in the conference, the play of the youth could end up being a crucial indicator of whether or not the team will reach its goals.

Certainly given its schedule, which Francis noted some outlets have pegged as the fourth-toughest in the nation, there will be plenty of tests to come.

"We've got to thank (associate head) coach (Kelly) Miller for that," Francis joked of the schedule. "But I think it's going to prepare our players, especially our young players. They're going to get a pretty good look — which they already did against Iowa — about 'Welcome to Division-I athletics at the top level.'"

The Jayhawks will begin their non-conference slate at 7 p.m. tonight against No. 22 Nebraska at Rock Chalk Park.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.