Allen’s British invasion

Four freshmen from across the pond — twin sisters Mia and Yasmin Evans, Jasmine Sanders and Sophie Moss — have joined holdover Brits Dot Usher and Jess Jones to spearhead one of the most stunning athletic turnarounds in recent memory.

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April 23, 2021 - 2:52 PM

A group of English soccer players has Allen Community College’s women’s soccer team on an unbeaten romp through five games. They are, front row from left, Sophie Moss, Jess Jones and Jasmine Sanders; second row, Mia Evans, Dot Usher and Yasmin Evans. Photo by Richard Luken

As the saying goes, if you don’t like Kansas weather, just wait a few minutes and it will probably change.

Junior college athletics can be like that, too, Allen Community College women’s soccer coach Jeremy McGinnis notes.

“You might be struggling one year, but you can change it just like that,” he said. “You can bring in 12 different girls who can be game-changers.”

One needs to look no further than this year’s Red Devils to get his point, with a number of talented newcomers joining a few key contributors from last year.

That nearly all of them happen to hail from England gives Allen perhaps its most significant British invasion since — well, maybe the days of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Four freshmen from across the pond — twin sisters Mia and Yasmin Evans, Jasmine Sanders and Sophie Moss — have joined holdover Brits Dot Usher and Jess Jones to spearhead one of the most stunning athletic turnarounds in recent memory.

Allen’s 5-0 win over Southeast College on Wednesday puts the Red Devils at 5-0 on the season and well on the way to a conference title. 

This comes after the Red Devils were plagued with injuries and defections en route to a winless 2019 campaign.

But the record alone belies the nature of ACC’s dominance. The Red Devils have outscored their opponents by a collective 27-1. 

“We suspected we were better, but as soon as we played our first game, we knew we were going to be a lot better,” said Jones, who found the back of the net for her first goal of the season Wednesday against Southeast.

Jessica Jones is in her second year at Allen Community College.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

JONES suspects Allen’s improvement stems from several underlying reasons.

This year is ACC’s first at the Division II level, against other schools with similar-sized athletic department budgets and philosophies regarding scholarships and financial aid policies.

Simply put, it’s a more level playing field for schools like Allen.

Secondly, the Red Devils may have gone winless last season, but it wasn’t necessarily because of a lack of talent. The squad lost its leading returning scorer in the first week of preseason due to injury, on top of six other players who decommitted weeks before practice was to start.

“It made for a tough year,” McGinnis noted.

And for months afterward McGinniss et al were uncertain who would be on the roster this season, thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Usher and Jones both had to return home from ACC early last year when the pandemic essentially shut down the country, then had to wait for months on end to get travel visas necessary to return.

Likewise, the Evanses, Moss and Sanders had hoped to get onto the ACC campus at the start of the school year in August, but had to wait until the second semester in January before their travel was approved.

“It was very frustrating,” Mia Evans said. ‘We’d think we’d be coming, and then things would shut down again.”

Sophie Moss is a freshman this season at Allen Community College.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

BUT THE Allen cupboard wasn’t exactly bare, with players like Jones, whose ball-handling as an outside back or elsewhere in midfield allows for smooth ball movement from one side of the field to the other.

“She’s just an all-around good ball-winner,” McGinnis said.

Likewise sophomore goalkeeper Phoenix Michaelis has had a year to develop as well, and has dominated her position, allowing only a single goal all season.

“I’ve known Phoenix since she was 8,” McGinnis said. “And we had Ava (Cook) and Sam (Burks) and Ashton (Duerkson) all stick around from last season.”

The newcomers quickly bonded with their Allen teammates.

“I wouldn’t say the girls last year hated each other, but we didn’t always get along,” Jones noted. “We don’t have any of that this year.”

In fact, Jones helped recruit the Evanses, Sanders and Moss via Zoom meetings once they expressed an interest in Allen.

“We mainly talked about the team and Jeremy and the school,” Jones chuckled. “Jeremy would try to look over my shoulder. ‘What are you saying?’ But we didn’t really speak about last season.”

Once their travel plans were accepted, and the quartet arrived on campus in early January, Jones saw just how well her new teammates would be accepted.

“We get along,” she said.

Mia Evans is a freshman this season at Allen Community College.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

MCGINNIS was asked about the strengths each player brings to the squad.

“Mia is our outside back,” he said. “With our formation, our outside backs can get forward and be part of the attack, or they can play back and defend. She can do both.”

Yasmin, as a holding mid, is adept at reading the game, McGinnis said. 

“Her soccer IQ is very high,” he said. “She’s a ball-winner. Any time they try to play a ball through or split our back line, she’s there as a stopper.”

Moss, likewise, offers a dazzling blend of speed and finesse. “She can strike a ball, and is a great all-around kid. She keeps the pace very quick.”

Sanders, like the Evanses, is precise, physical when she needs to be, and highly intelligent on the pitch.

“She’s a cruncher,” McGinnis said. “She’s gonna go in there and eat your lunch. She’ll go through people.”

Sanders recalled one tackle that sent an opposing player sprawling to the ground, so he went to check on her fallen foe.

“I went ‘are you OK?’ And she said, ‘Ow, I’m 3really hurting, but your accent is so nice,’” Sanders laughed. ‘“I’m like, OK then.”

Yes, their British dialect oftentimes allows them to get away with things stateside they may not be able to back home.

Mia Evans recalled, in a bit of frustration in one match, when she muttered “bollocks,” to convey annoyance, only to draw a confused reaction from her American teammates. (It also happens to describe the male genitalia.)

“Sometimes we can get away with saying things,” Mia Evans laughed.

McGinnis agreed. “Even when they cuss, it sounds polite.”

And, they’re not afraid to engage verbally with teammates, opponents, even the crowds.

“They’d look at us like, ‘You can’t say that!’” Mia Evans laughed. 

It’s all in good fun, Coach McGinnis said. Besides, who knows how to react when you hear an opponent say of her shot “It had a touch of baby rhinoceros” or “I made a  goal, holy moly!”

His holy rule? “Just keep it PG,” McGinnis said.

Allen Community College’s Dot Usher has spearheaded the Red Devils to an undefeated start to the 2021 women’s soccer season.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

BUT THE key element is Allen’s sudden turnaround is the play of the aforementioned Dot Usher, who is poised to rewrite ACC’s scoring record books before the season ends.,

All the Farnham, England, native has done is score 14 goals through ACC’s five games, including her fourth hat trick of the season against Southeast. In fact, she scored Allen’s first three goals of the match, all coming in the first 53 minutes.

“She worked really hard over COVID working on getting stronger, doing a lot of gym stuff,” McGinnis said.

Uncertain when she would get to return to Allen, Usher spent hours on end practicing on her own with her brother at home.

“Dot has always been a technical player,” McGinnis said. “She definitely played well against good competition, and grew from that. She’s a great technical finisher around the box, and is probably one of the best players to hit volleys out of the air.”

But mostly, McGinnis praised her work ethic and attitude.

“She’s got a great attitude,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun bantering with her during practice.”

See, Usher is an avid Liverpool fan back home, while McGinnis is a devotee of Manchester United, Liverpool’s most hated rival. (Think Red Sox-Yankess, Duke-North Carolina or Kansas-Missouri.)

“We have one Manchester U person here, and about four Liverpool fans,” McGinnis laughed. “They love giving it back and forth.”

Usher, who grew up a soccer fan after watching the movie “Bend It Like Beckham” as a child, likely will return to her homeland after the school year ends, either to continue her studies or to play with a club at home.

Jones will stay stateside. She has signed to play next season at Kansas Wesleyan.

Yasmin Evans (4) and her twin sister Mia are key additions to the Allen Community College women’s soccer team this season.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

ALLEN’S dominance is getting noticed elsewhere. This week marks the first time the Red Devils have cracked the NJCAA-II top 20.

Suddenly, the suggestion that Allen will make it to the national tournament at the end of the season is not so far-fetched.

“It’s a very realistic goal,” McGinnis said. 

The key, the players said, is to stay focused.

So far, so good. Sanders noted Allen could have easily coasted in some of its recent matches, but continues to press forward, regardless of score.

McGinnis said the team’s success also is testament to the players, particularly those who remained after last year’s winless campaign.

“When you’re at this level, and this age group, loyalty can be hard to find,” McGinnis said. “That you had players like Dot and Jess stick around means a lot. They’ll always have a place in my heart.

“Everyone knows what we were the year before,” he continued. “One of the things we talk about is whether you’re going to be a part of a problem, or part of a solution. They know they’re gonna be a part of the solution.”

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