So far, it’s shaking out quite well. The Raiders are 5-1-2 heading into their conference opener Friday at UIC — their best pre-league record since going 7-0-2 in 2006.
They’ve already matched last year’s tally of 16 goals while allowing just 11.
“They can’t key on one kid. Last year, teams keyed on Aaliyah a lot because she was so good. But we’ve got so many kids who have the capacity to score, and it’s difficult for teams to figure out which one to go after,” Ferguson said.
Destiny Johnson, a junior from Zanesville, has five goals and two assists, and Brittney Petrosky, a junior from Vandalia Butler, has four goals. Both are in the top 10 in the league in points.
Michelle Rings, a freshman from Strongsville, Ohio, has two goals and two assists, and Josie Krupp, a sophomore from Springfield Catholic, has two goals with one assist.
“We were picked to finish fifth in the conference, and that’s OK with me,” Ferguson said. “Other teams saw we lost Aaliyah and thought we’d take a step back. But I don’t think that’s the case. We have strength in numbers.”
The Raiders have never won a regular-season title. They did win the conference tourney and reach the NCAAs in 1999 and 2000, but league had just six teams then instead of the current 10.
Still, Ferguson likes the Raiders’ chances.
“We have a class of eight seniors, and the culture and expectations are high because of the upperclassmen,” he said. “They’ve done a really good job of setting the bar.
“We have the attackers to win, and, defensively, we’re good enough. We also have chemistry and belief, and the last two items are more important than the first two.”
VOLLEYBALL: The Raiders won the Wright State Invitational by sweeping Indiana State, Western Illinois and Toledo last weekend, improving to 8-1 for their best nine-game start since also going 8-1 in 2001.
Junior Celia Powers was the tourney MVP. Sophomore Lainey Stephenson and junior Nyssa Baker made the all-tourney team.
Stephenson was named the league’s offensive player of the week after notching 112 assists in the three wins. Teammates Teddie Sauer and Jenna Story (twice) also have earned weekly awards from the league this season.
The Raiders have made a remarkable turnaround under second-year coach Allie Matters. They have the second-worst winning percentage in league history (.362), but they finished 15-14 last season and qualified for the six-team conference tourney for the first time in 11 years.
CROSS COUNTRY: The Raider women won the Rumble in the Fort, hosted by Purdue-Fort Wayne, behind the first-place finish of senior Shelby Nolan. Senior Nathan Dunn's first-place showing helped the men finish third.