Maddie Love, UNK Soccer

UNK forward Maddie Love (22) finished second on the team with three goals and eight points as a junior last season.

KEARNEY — Chloe Roberts is trying to build a culture focused on work ethic and competitiveness as she leads the University of Nebraska at Kearney women’s soccer program.

In the program’s first 10 years, the Lopers haven’t consistently competed at a high level. The third-year coach is trying to change that, which is one reason she doesn’t guarantee playing time or starting spots. She has a roster featuring 26 players — all which she’s recruited — and her message is starting to take shape.

The Lopers posted a 5-12-1 record last season. They struggled to score most of the year, which caused them to lose seven games by one goal. Roberts hopes the returning players can learn from last season while 15 freshmen will provide an added spark to allow the Lopers to take the next step.

“I think the culture of this team is getting there,” Roberts said. “We were so close last year with seven games with losing by one goal, which is frustrating when I look back. But I know that we are very close.

“For us to push over that line, it is giving 100 percent every practice. We want to make the conference tournament. That’s the No. 1 goal for us. And then obviously scoring more goals and having clean sheets because that’s how you win games.”

Although Roberts has high expectations, she remains committed to her approach of taking one game at a time. She understands with a plethora of freshmen there will be growing pains. But she also believes this freshmen class has the potential to make a big contribution, especially in the attacking third.

“We focused heavily in recruiting attacking, creative players who know where the net is,” Roberts said. “In practice its been important to make players feel comfortable in front of their goal and knowing they can do it. Doing a variety of shooting drills and getting them confident that way when they are in the game, they can picture that moment and put it in the back of the net.”

The Lopers played two exhibition games this preseason against club teams and displayed dynamic scoring ability. It was an encouraging sign for Roberts, but she knows the Lopers have to play with a fast pace and aggressiveness throughout the MIAA season to make the conference tournament.

This preseason has served as an opportunity for the Lopers to develop that style of play while cultivating relationships with one another on and off the field.

With more than half the team being newcomers, the Lopers went on a two-day team retreat to YMCA Camp Kitaki in Louisville, Neb. It allowed the players to interact and become comfortable with one another.

“The 15 freshmen have gelled well with us,” senior goalkeeper Allie Prososki said. “It’s kind of exciting having a whole new team, new players, new attitudes. It’s just great having a whole new team to push each other on the field.”

Prososki and senior defender Molly Willis are team captains this season. Prososki, a Kearney Catholic graduate, was the Lopers’ top goalie last season, recording a 1.48 goals against average and a 5-7 record in 14 games.

Willis, a Kearney High graduate, played every minute last season and earned honorable mention All-MIAA.

“The veterans are always a crucial part of this team, and they are leading in the right way on the field and off the field,” Roberts said. “They have done a great job with helping the freshmen if they need anything and also setting the standard at practice.”

The Lopers also return senior forward Maddie Love and junior Kassidy Kirsch. Love finished second on the team with three goals and eight points.

Roberts was high on Kirsch last season, who was in her first year in the program. She displayed flashes of her potential, recording one goal and two assists. Roberts believes Kirsch could provide a bigger impact this season.

“She comes in the office and wants to know what she can work on,” Roberts said. “We tell her that she’s so fast that she needs to take more players on more. Push the ball because she’s so fast that no one is going to catch up with her. She’s started to do that. She also works well defensively.

“Her work rate and willingness to get better and being coachable helps her a lot. We have definitely seen an improvement over the last couple years we’ve had with her.”

The Lopers open the season with the UNK Fall Classic at Ron and Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field. They will play Minnesota State University-Moorhead at 5 p.m. Friday and Wayne Sate at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.