0913 Katie Arthur

Lander’s Katie Arthur takes a free kick during Lander’s 2-0 win over Erskine during the 2018 season.

The 2018 season was one of the best years in program history of Lander’s women’s soccer team.

The program’s first ever NCAA tournament appearance ended with a penalty-shootout loss in the first round.

This season, the Bearcats have all of last year’s key pieces, plus experience from a successful previous year. Lander coach Chris Ayer said the team’s run last season will ready them mentally for this season.

“I think that’s motivation,” Ayer said. “It makes you work harder every day. It makes you work harder to finalize your chances and make it so we don’t have to get to that point (to penalties.)”

Lander started the season with a 3-0 win against Converse last Thursday. The Bearcats will play their home opener 5 p.m. today.

The team returns every player who recorded a goal, assist or save from last year’s team. The Bearcats were balanced in the attack last season, with Juliette Vidal leading the team with 10 goals. Brianna Taylor scored nine goals and Emily Jermstad added seven goals.

About 80% of Lander’s goals and assists came from underclassmen last season.

Taylor was named to Division II All-Southeast Region second team last season. Jermstad was named the the All-Southeast third team.

The Bearcats hit their stride in October last season, ending the regular season with five consecutive wins. The team’s only Peach Belt losses came against North Georgia and Columbus State.

Jermstad, defender Hannah Sinner and midfielder Lauren Shuba are the team’s only three seniors this season.

“The growth aspect is we’re still quite young,” Ayer said. “We only have three seniors, so its still a quite young group of kids. We’re still trying to figure everything out and maximize the ability that this team has.”

Despite the team’s youth, Ayer said he’s seen excellent leadership from most of his players.

“We’ve got great leaders,” Ayer said. “We’ve got great kids, they understand the culture and they’re focused. They’re trying to get better every day and they’re trying to hold each other accountable.”

The Bearcats finished last season with a 12-2-3 record and a 7-2-1 record in the Peach Belt Conference. A consistent Lander offense averaged 15.9 shots per game and had 53% of its shots on target last season.

Ayer said the team’s experience, even as sophomores and juniors, has it ready to compete at a higher level.

“They work hard every day and they kind of know what to expect at this point,” Ayer said. “They work hard and we are ready.”

Contact sports writer Skylar Rolstad at 223-1813 or follow him on Twitter @SkyRolSports.