The Hastings Raiders girls’ soccer team were just below .500 at 7-8-1 last year and head coach Scott Meier said he has seen some important improvement from his squad through the first few days of tryouts.

“I think overall, from what I’ve seen so far our players’ skill sets have improved from last year,” he said. “The girls have shown some improvement, our pace of play during tryout sessions has been pretty good, it seems to be elevated I’d say from last year during some of the tryout sessions, so that’s a really good, promising thing to see.”

Bella Meier put together a tremendous freshman season for the Raiders in 2018 and will be an important piece of Hastings' offense this fall. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia
Bella Meier put together a tremendous freshman season for the Raiders in 2018 and will be an important piece of Hastings' offense this fall. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia

That improvement, and continuing to develop, will be critical for the Raiders this fall, perhaps even more so than in previous years, as their non-conference schedule has taken a step up in difficulty. They will face Chaska, Irondale, their annual matchups with Duluth teams, Apple Valley and Park.

Meier said they are trying to develop in three specific areas in particular.

“We’ve been talking as a staff and I guess there’s three components that we’re really looking to work on across the program,” he said. “We’re really looking to make some strides in the technical development of our players, we’ve taken a couple of ladder steps with that. Another thing is working on our fitness this year, that’s going to be a key thing, and then that will help us with our speed of play. We want to try to increase our speed of play, play a little bit faster in terms of our touches and our decisions to help us with our possession this year.”

Once challenge Meier and his staff face this season is establishing teams with more unequal numbers between the classes than is normal. He said that there are 64 total girls out for the teams and they have solid numbers in the senior and sophomore classes. However, at the freshman and junior levels numbers are down compared to the past.

Noelle Zwart is part of the strong senior class for the Raiders this upcoming fall that will try and up the tempo and play faster on Todd Field's new turf. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia
Noelle Zwart is part of the strong senior class for the Raiders this upcoming fall that will try and up the tempo and play faster on Todd Field's new turf. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia

The Raiders have a new junior varsity coach in Hannah Smith, who assisted Meier on varsity two years ago and has now returned. She will also help with training the goal keepers.

Both the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams will have to adjust to play all their home games on turf now that it has been installed on Todd Field as part of the McNamara Stadium renovations. Meier said that it will be a big change for his team but ultimately a good one.

“It’s going to be a big change, going from a grass surface that we’ve played to a faster surface, being on turf that’s level, that kind of ties in from what we’re trying to do from a technical standpoint, as well as our skills and speed of play because that surface is really going to require us to do so,” he said.

Many of the Metro East Conference schools already play on turf and the Raiders are familiar with playing on it. However, Meier said that as more and more teams continue to move to turf, playing on grass eventually becomes a disadvantage.

“I’m excited to see what that holds for us because within our squad, we have some speed scattered throughout our squad, so I’m anxious to see how that unfolds for us at the varsity level,” he said.

Hastings started the season by hosting several teams for a round of scrimmages on the practice fields behind the high school on Saturday, Aug. 17. They are on the road for their first three games of the regular season, starting with Rochester John Marshall on Thursday, Aug. 22. They then make their Duluth trip and play Marshall School on Thursday, Aug. 22, and Duluth Denfeld the next day. Their first home match is on Tuesday, Sept. 3, against Mounds View. Other matches to watch for are against Apple Valley on the road on Sept. 7, Irondale at home on Sept. 14, home versus Chaska on Sept. 19 and home against Park on Sept. 28.