CONCORDIA, Kansas — Cloud County Community College welcomed back women's soccer in 2017, reactivating the program that had not seen the field since 2013.
The T-Birds turned heads immediately, finishing 15-5 overall en route to earning just the second Region VI championship in the program's history, and punching their first ever ticket to the NJCAA DI Women's Championships.
Cloud County won't be a well-kept secret again this fall. But with 16 returners from last year's squad, first-year head coach Charles Long is optimistic the preseason No. 14 ranked T-Birds will be back in the hunt to return to the national tournament in 2018.
"It's good to have this many girls with experience, our sophomores are very good. The key now will be that they keep progressing because they have the knowledge and experience on what it takes to get to the national tournament," said Long, who comes to Concordia after recent stops at Garden City Community College and the University of Virgin Islands.
"They say 'Sophomores are worth their weight in gold,' at junior colleges, so I'm excited to have that many. The flip side is that no one is going to overlook Cloud County now. The target is going to be on our backs this year."
Castro, the Defensive Player of the Year in the KJCCC West and Region V, also proved to be an offensive threat in 2017 as the center back scored six goals, while Villanova paced all T-Birds a year ago with 15 goals.
Cloud County will also welcome back a number of regulars from last season in Maria Barbosa, Yohanna Duliep, Tatiana Carrillo Suarez, Yasmidt Mendoza, Juliana Lima, Karem Rodrigues, Gabriela de Jesus, Hannah McCloud, Hollie Johnston, Abigail Conway and starting goalkeeper, Alanya Hannigan.
The T-Birds are also excited about a talented freshman class that features the likes of Juliana Padilla, a shutdown defenseman out of Wichita, and Brazilians Franciele Cupertino and Thaina Cavalcante.
Cupertino figures to provide another scoring option for the T-Birds, while Long said Cavalcante profiles as an impact player in the midfield as a skilled passer with great vision.
"A lot of these freshman girls could end up being impact players for us," Long said. "At this stage, it's just about getting them on the field in competition and seeing how they develop."
Cloud County gets the 2018 season underway at 5 p.m. Wednesday on the road against Iowa Lakes Community College, then opens up at home at 2 p.m. Monday against Northern Oklahoma College-Tonkawa.
The T-Birds begin the trek through the always talented Region VI on Wednesday, September 5 at home against Hesston College and expectations for the 2018 season, on and off the field, have already been set high inside the Cloud County locker room.
"Obviously, the girls' goal is to get back to the national tournament and we'd all love to be able to win the Region VI again to make that happen. It'd be a major feat to go to nationals in back-to-back years," Long said. "But for me, my goal is to get these girls, these sophomores a place to play next year. That's my ultimate goal for them; that we play well enough that we get them on to good four-year schools down the road."