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The Antelope

The Antelope

Lopers playing for the present, focusing on the future

RYAN RANGE / ANTELOPE STAFF The Lopers struggled to gain offensive momentum against Fort Hays.

After the 2020 regular soccer season was canceled just two weeks before classes started, the team was informed in October that they would have a chance to play in the spring.  The spring matches won’t be tracked on the team’s record, but the Lady Lopers are still making every minute count.

The initial news of the lost season tested the team’s morale.

“The team was really upset. All summer everyone would speculate and hope we would just have a shortened season, not have it completely canceled,” said Alex Dayton, senior forward.  

The Lopers were in a sudden off-season.  

They did what they could, focusing on what they needed to do to build the team and the program. 

“The fall looked like a typical season without any games,” said Kassidy Kirsch, senior forward, “We lifted a lot more than we typically do in the fall, so everyone got stronger and faster thanks to our strength coach, Devin Hernandez.” 

The process included many discussions with the NCAA, each conference and institution during the months of October and November, before a decision was finally made to allow a modified spring schedule in December.

“We had all been working really hard through our sudden off season, and it was exciting to finally have something to work towards,” Dayton said.

The news was received with a bit of doubt by some — with good reason. 

“Nothing was set in stone, so in the back of our minds we were always worried about it being canceled again,” Kirsch said. “Having games in the spring was our motivation to get through the fall and continue working hard, not just go through the motions.”   

Though the stakes are not as high, the Lady Lopers have much to gain. The unexpected off-season and spring matches have given the team a chance to develop the freshmen squad before their first official MIAA match.  

“[We had] that extra time in the fall to have the freshman get settled in and get everyone to hone in on their skills,” Kirsch said. “Coach Chloe did a great job motivating us and reminding us that we were lucky to still be able to be on campus and practicing with each other in the middle of a pandemic.”

Extra time also allowed the team to get some outside help in preparation for the spring matches.  

“This semester, we have had the opportunity to work with the exercise science department,” Kirsch said. “They help us track our recovery so that we are fully prepared for every game.”

As a program, the future of the team is always an important factor to keep in mind, but for some players this season has taken some stress off and allowed them to go out and enjoy the game.  

“I have played for 20 years because I love the sport,” Dayton said. “This last season as a competitive soccer player, I just want to have fun.”

Dayton, who had two ACL replacements before finishing high school and a meniscus tear her sophomore year at UNK, refuses to end her season on the sidelines. She has decided to play out the rest of the 2021 season with a recently torn ACL.  

For her, it’s about more than goals or wins and losses — it’s about comradery and passion for the sport.  

“The biggest positive I can pull from this season is basking in the sisterhood and friendships I have made,” Dayton said. “I really like being a part of this team, even if we fight I love the common goal and the desire to play soccer that every girl has. I am blessed to be able to play one more season, even on a torn ACL.  It will be hard, but I am determined to do it and have fun doing it.”

The seniors have an option to come back for the fall, due to every athlete getting their year of eligibility back.  Those planning to graduate this May would have a big decision to make, as they are required to be enrolled in classes to play next year.  

 Dayton and Parker Humpal are two of the seniors that decided this would be their last year on the pitch.  Megan Cook will be playing in the fall and graduating in December. Kirsch will be graduating this May and playing in the fall while earning her masters degree. 

“This season is great for the seniors to go out and finish their college career being able to put that jersey on and enjoy their last few matches as a Loper,” said Chloe Roberts, the Lopers head coach.  

A new season will mean new faces.  The pandemic has made recruiting difficult, but not impossible.

“A lot of recruiting showcases were cancelled so that meant a lot of watching highlights and live streamed games from home,” Roberts said.

 Most of the team will be returning next season with the addition of a few freshmen.  Now the team hopes that having a year to develop and grow as a team will ultimately pay off in the fall.  

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