The Gillette College women’s soccer team is having its best season in the young program’s history.
With 11 regular season wins this fall, the Pronghorns (11-2 overall, 7-1 Region IX) have topped their previous record of seven, with two more games left before the playoff schedule begins.
Pronghorns head coach Nate Ulness has been with the program team since Day one. He was an assistant coach with University of Mary women’s college soccer in North Dakota before landing the head job in Gillette in 2017 to start a new college soccer program.
“That was a big learning curve,” said Ulness, 29. “There were a lot of things that, as an assistant, you really don’t think about.
He was hired Feb. 1 that year and he had to scramble to find players to field a team in six months
In the first year, many would expect a new program to be penciled in as an easy win on other teams’ schedules, but the Pronghorns won seven games in the regular season and seven again last season.
“For us, it was making sure to compete,” Ulness said. “It was just being strong in those games, learning things and building. And just showing that we’re going to be a program that’s going to be coming up fast and strong.”
This year, with the arrival of the new turf Pronghorn Field and a talented group of freshmen, something clicked with the women wearing the methane blue and coal black.
“We’ve all come together really well, which has really helped us be able to play as a better team,” freshman forward Jaycie Greene said. “We’ve had no drama, no problems with each other or complications, so I feel like that team unity has really helped us play a lot better. We all have that mentality and that drive of wanting to go all the way.”
The success has been powered by a dominating offensive attack that averages more than five goals a game. Last year, the Pronghorns averaged fewer than two a game and finished with 24 total.
“Even our defenders can shoot,” said freshman forward Emma Jarvis, a Campbell County High School graduate who has 13 goals and 10 assists this season. “When we realize we need a goal, anybody can make it happen.”
This season, scoring has been by the bunches and spread around for the Pronghorns.
Four players have seven or more goals — Greene, Jarvis, midfielder Molly Fehringer and defense Sarah Williams. All four are in the freshmen class, which has led the goal scoring rush this season.
Greene, a Lehi, Utah, native, leads with 16 total goals, more than double that of the team’s top scorer last season.
“It’s nice to be able to see those results. The hard work I’m putting in is getting me there,” Greene said. “We’re all just pushing each other and holding each other accountable to get to that next level.”
On top of that, 15 players have scored in a game this season, displaying the depth that the team has. Even those who don’t start can take the field and do some damage.
But what makes this team different than the previous two seasons when the Pronghorns finished near .500?
“Last year, we had a lot of scoring opportunities. It just seemed like we couldn’t put anything in the back of the net,’” sophomore midfielder Kelsey Hogan said. “Everyone wants to score. It’s just a mentality thing, I think. We came into the season with kind of a chip on our shoulder like, ‘Hey, we’re good.’ And we want to prove that every game.”
Hogan and the group of seven sophomores have taken leadership roles as the more experienced players on the field, though the talented group of freshmen have done the most scoring.
“When we weren’t playing (well) together at the beginning. They brought everyone together, like, ‘Hey, we’re a team,’” Jarvis said about the sophomores bringing everyone in at the start of the season.
Nia Trejo is the lone Pronghorn goalkeeper this season. She has played in every game, even toughing it out when she is sick because nobody else has played significant time between the posts this season.
“I feel like (my performance) is where it needs to be right now. I’m still improving, and it’s definitely going to get better,” Trejo said.
Trejo often stands back on her section of the field alone for long stretches of the game as the Pronghorn offense pounds away at a tired opposing keeper. But when her time comes to make a stop, she’s made the save 84% of the time. She boasts three straight shutouts going into the last two games of the season.
The Pronghorns are scheduled to play Central Community College (5-9) on Saturday and then the sister school Sheridan College (6-5) on Oct. 19 for the home finale.
Ulness said his goal for the team was to do one better than last season and reach the Region IX championship.
“Last year we made it the semifinals. This year we want to be in the championship round,” Ulness said. “There’s no cap to the ceiling, but that’s what our ultimate immediate goal is for the big picture. Right now the small picture is every game at a time, every practice at a time, working as hard as we can.”