‘On to the Goal’
CSU women’s soccer is making history
by Tony Phifer
published Oct. 31, 2019
“Fight on you stalwart Ram team, on to the goal!”
That opening line from Colorado State University’s fight song contains a favorite word in Ram vernacular: stalwart. It can mean many things – hardworking, loyal and strong among them – but if you want to see the true definition of stalwart on campus, look at the CSU women’s soccer team.
These Rams know what it’s like to overcome, to persevere and – finally – to triumph. They have become an unlikely success story built on the commitment and vision of coach Bill Hempen and the hard work of a roster filled with student-athletes determined to rewrite their story.
“There were definitely times when I asked myself, ‘Why am I here? Why am I going through this pain and suffering and not getting any positive results?’” said Halley Havlicek, a senior defender and team captain said of her journey in the program. “None of the teams we played respected us, and we had girls on our team who weren’t super-committed to the program. It was really frustrating, but now all of our work is finally paying off.”
Nobody expected immediate success when CSU launched the women’s soccer program prior to the 2013 season. Hempen, a proven winner and program builder who started the program at Duke and transformed the program at the University of Colorado prior to coming to CSU, had no players, no equipment and no place to play.
“I knew it would take some time,” Hampen said. “You just have to work hard and be patient.”
“I knew it would take some time. You just have to work hard and be patient.”
— coach Bill Hempen
Positive results were slow to come. The Rams were 2-13-3 in their 2013 inaugural season, and it didn’t get any easier. Seasons with 4, 3, 3, 4 and 6 wins followed, and league victories in the Mountain West were hard to come by.
But the lack of wins was just part of the picture. The Rams had to play their initial games miles from campus at the Fort Collins Soccer Complex north of the city. They moved to an open space near the Lory Student Center after that – an area dubbed “Lagoon Field” – in an effort to connect with campus, but it was hardly ideal.
“I remember having to carry balls and equipment from Moby to Lagoon Field, and it took forever,” said senior midfielder and co-captain Caeley Lordemann. “Our freshmen and sophomores really have it good these days.”
The Rams finally have a high-quality field just south of Moby – Hempen calls it the best in the conference – but there are no stands for the team’s small but growing fan base. And Joe Parker, CSU’s director of athletics, announced plans earlier this year to build a complex that includes new facilities for soccer and softball.
Still, no one was going to believe real progress was taking place until the Rams started producing results on the field. To say that they have checked that box this fall would be a massive understatement.
Bill Hempen coaching the team versus the Boise State Broncos during this year’s annual Pink Out Game.
The Rams go into their 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1, home match against rival Wyoming with a 12-5-1 record – doubling their previous high for wins, set last season. And after years of finishing at or near the bottom of the Mountain West standings, they are 7-3 and alone in third place.
More importantly, they have secured a place in the conference’s postseason tournament, which opens next week in Boise, Idaho – a first in program history.
“We’ve never had meaningful practices and games this time of year, so this is something new for our players to grasp,” Hempen said. “It’s new territory for them, but this group has all the right stuff. They don’t expect anything – they know they have to work hard to reach their goals, and they embrace that.”
If you’re wondering what’s different in 2019, look no further than the seven-member senior class and the team’s captains, who took it upon themselves to change a laissez-faire team culture and instill a winning attitude. As a result, these players like each other – really! – and work hard for each other to achieve a greater good.
“When I was younger and we would get ready to go on the road, I would always get nervous about finding out who I was going to room with because a lot of the girls didn’t get along that well,” said Havlicek, a mechanical engineering major. “This year it’s completely different. There’s no drama – we’re a family – and I would happily room with anyone on our team.”
Still, it takes a bit more than a positive attitude to win games. You’ve still got to have players make plays and put points on the board. Someone had to step up and do something beyond the status quo.
The Greeley native and transfer from Creighton had always been a solid player at CSU, but she recognized that the Rams lacked a goal scorer. She sent a text message to Hempen in the spring that changed everything.
“She sent me this text that said, essentially, ‘If we don’t reach our goals this year, it’s on me,’” he said. “I knew she was going to do something special.”
Lordemann, a health and exercise science major, came into this season with eight goals in two years. This year she has shattered pretty much every school record for scoring, recording 11 goals and six assists. She has provided the game-winning goal seven times – tops in the conference.
“KK (Lordemann’s nickname) is one of those kids who has all the talent in the world but was afraid to show it,” Hempen said. “This year she’s more fit than ever, and she’s playing at a different level – and that has elevated everyone on our team. She wants this team to succeed so badly, and she’s taken it upon herself to make it happen.”
There’s no better example of Lordemann’s skill and determination than the Rams’ recent game at Nevada. The Rams needed a win to keep their tournament hopes alive, but the Wolfpack grabbed a 1-0 lead late in the game. Lordemann simply took over, scoring the equalizer in the 83rd minute and the game-winner in the third minute of overtime, giving the Rams a 2-1 vicotry. Two days later they clinched their tournament berth with a 5-2 win at UNLV.
“There wasn’t anyone who was going to stop her in that Nevada game,” Hempen said.
“I think that consciously I knew that game was going to be the deciding moment for us, and as soon as Nevada scored something sparked in me and my determination hit a new level,” Lordemann said. “I was lucky enough to find the back of the net a couple of times.”
“It’s an amazing feeling thinking about the tournament. All of the pain and ups and downs have all paid off.”
— Halley Havlicek, defender
If they Rams can beat Wyoming on Senior Day – they’ve never beaten their Border War rivals in six previous tries – they will enter the MW Tournament on a run of seven wins in eight matches and riding a wave of momentum. Win or lose Friday, they are beyond excited to get to the tournament and play for a chance at the school’s first NCAA Tournament berth. Three wins in five days would do it.
“It’s an amazing feeling thinking about the tournament,” Havlicek said. “All of the pain and ups and downs have all paid off. The seniors have helped the program grow, just like every class before us, and we finally got the big payoff. But we’re not done yet. We want to win the whole thing.
“You know, it would have been an easy ride if we already had a field with stands filled with fans, but it wouldn’t have been as rewarding. Now it will be easier for the teams that come after us. That’s why I never left – I wanted to stick with it because I knew there was something special here. And that’s why I’ll leave here with a great sense of pride.”