MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University head soccer coach Matt Granstrand has projected for some time that he would be faced with a young squad in 2012 after years and years of senior-laden squads.
One area he did not anticipate to be young and inexperienced, however, this season was in goal since 2012 would be the senior season of all-conference goaltender Jessica Baker.
Then Baker, who academically was a senior in 2011, dropped a bombshell on Granstrand just before the end of the regular season, informing the coach she would not return in 2012.
Northern Michigan University redshirt freshman goalkeeper Shelby Conard works during corner kick drills on Tuesday at the NMU Soccer Field. Conard and sophomore Nicole Musi will split time in goal for at least the first few games this season according to head coach Matt Granstrand, who hopes to name a No. 1 keeper in time for the GLIAC opener on Sept. 10 at Michigan Tech. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
That left Granstrand scrambling this offseason to find a goalkeeper, which he did in Siri Skogland of Haugesund, Norway.
The 5-foot-9 Norwegian will not be available until next season, however, so Granstrand has turned to 5-9 redshirt freshman Shelby Conard and 5-8 sophomore midfielder-turned-keeper Nicole Musi to share time in net, at least initially.
Depending on the winds, the Wildcats may use both at 5 p.m. Thursday when they open the season on their home pitch against Minnesota-Duluth.
Granstrand, now in his ninth season, expects both to make mistakes since neither has played a single minute of collegiate soccer. Hopefully after four to five games, one will emerge as the 'Cats go-to goalie for the rest of the season, Granstrand said.
"They are both similar in a lot of ways," Granstrand said. "They're both right now just a little bit up and down. One can have a fantastic day and you turn around and the next day, it's the other goalkeeper.
"Nicole might be a little bit better with the foot skills. Shelby has a little more height so (she's) a little better on the high balls. They are both coming along great, but they are starting fresh."
Either Conard or Musi will have a pair of veteran defenders in front of them in senior Becky Fiorenza and junior Kaylagh Hollen.
Fiorenza - who got married over the summer, changing her name from Schmidt - posted a goal and an assist in 2011 while starting all 19 games. She was voted an All-GLIAC first-team defender and named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-Midwest Region third team.
Hollen appeared in 18 games last season after playing in all 20 during the Wildcats' NCAA tournament run in 2010.
Hollen and Fiorenza will man the middle while freshman Helen Kiilunen, sophomore Cheyenne Cecchini and sophomore Taylor Smith battle for time on the outside.
Sophomore Kim Rietveld, who scored three goals in 19 games as a freshman to become an All-GLIAC second-team midfielder, is also an option in the backfield, Granstrand said.
Fiorenza said the defensive mindset doesn't change much despite having an inexperienced goalkeeper, but she does need to get used to a new voice behind her after playing with Baker each of the previous two seasons.
"There's no time to even think about slacking," Fiorenza said. "You just have to give everything you have, every step of the day."
Northern, which is coming off a 10-6-3 season that ended in the first round of the GLIAC playoffs, will find itself with more inexperience in the midfield with senior Brekelle Sellers the lone returnee after she scored a goal and three assists in 19 games last year.
Kiilunen and Smith could also see time in the midfield depending on Granstrand's formation, along with freshman Gabriella Garza and freshman Tiffany Trembley.
Marquette's Haley Boroughf, who made four appearances last year as a freshman up front, moves to the defensive midfielder, which is where Granstrand said he always wanted her to play.
"She has done really well and is going to start," Granstrand said. "I've wanted to see her play there for years and it's great to see her finally ready to accept that."
Northern lost its leading scorer up front - senior Chelsea Lyons and her seven goals and seven assists - but get back its two other leading scorers in sophomore Tevun Sellers and senior Amelia Johnson.
Sophomore Ashley Katers will also be relied upon up front after appearing in six games last season.
Tevun Sellers tallied six goals in 2011, while Johnson recorded four goals and three assists en route to All-GLIAC second-team honors.
No Wildcat took more chances than Johnson in 2011 - 46 shots - or put more pressure on opposing keepers - 24 shots on goal.
Johnson said with the inexperience in goal, there is some pressure for the forwards to score more goals, but that's something forwards thrive on, she said.
"I definitely think we'll be more offensive than last year," Johnson said. "We're pretty exciting this year and we're pretty creative. Hopefully if we can keep our confidence and finish, we should be good."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.