By RICK PETERSON
Making the move from Pamplona, Spain to Lamoni, Iowa to Topeka represented a series of major transitions for Washburn University soccer midfielder Ana Muruzabal.
But after a season to get used to a new home, both on and off the soccer pitch, the 5-foot-10 junior is in the midst of a breakout campaign for the 9-1-0 Ichabods, ranked 25th in the national rankings after winning a program-record eight straight games.
"I wasn't sure what I wanted to study when I was back home and then I was told I could come to the U.S. and play soccer and study so I was interested in that.'' Muruzabal said of her circuitous journey to WU. "I was in contact with different coaches and decided to go to Graceland.
"There were a lot of people leaving the soccer program at Graceland and the coach was leaving, too, so I didn't like how things were looking there so I decided to go for something new.''
It definitely took time for Muruzabal to adjust to a new team and a new level of soccer, with Muruzabal seeing action in just five games and playing just 53 minutes in 2022.
"It was a harder year and I had to transition a lot,'' she said. "I feel NAIA (at Graceland) was really different from D-II. The game was really different and I was used to playing as a defender and I was playing as a midfielder here so that was real different and it took me awhile.
"I worked really hard last year and during the summer. I knew what I had to do.''
The results have been dramatic, with Muruzabal leading the Ichabods with five goals while also adding three assists.
"I am surprised but I feel like the hard work is showing,'' Muruzabal said.
Washburn coach Davy Phillips agrees.
"Ana's worked really hard on her fitness,'' Phillips said. "She spent her freshman year at Graceland University and she wasn't pushed, so she had almost two years where she wasn't playing competitive soccer between the Graceland year and then her adjustment year here, but she worked really, really hard over the summer and she's always been really good.
"We knew it was there. It was just about getting her game ready and she worked really hard to do that.''
Phillps and Muruzabal said it's also been a benefit for her to have more than a year to get used to her Washburn teammates and the MIAA style of play.
"I think on the women's side that's really important,'' Phillips said. "They have to feel comfortable, they have to feel supported, they have to feel safe, all those things and there's an acclimation process that happens. It looks like she's much more comfortable this year, no doubt.''
"I like it a lot,'' said Muruzabal, second in the MIAA in total points. "At the beginning it's hard but I feel we spend a lot of hours together and that helps to get to know each other and get used to playing with each other.''
Now the goal for Muruzabal and her teammates is to build off their red-hot start.
"It's kind of crazy but we want it to keep going and hopefully this is the beginning of much more,'' she said.
Ichabods on road for pair of weekend matches
No. 25-ranked Washburn soccer heads to Missouri for two weekend MIAA matches, facing Missouri Western at 7 p.m. on Friday and Northwest Missouri at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Washburn is 9-1-0 on the season with a school-record eight straight victories. WU is currently first in the MIAA through three matches and the only team with three wins.
Washburn completed a four-match home stand with a 1-0 win over Rogers State last Friday and a 2-0 decision over Northeastern State.
Ichabod senior Raegan Wells started and won both games in goal over the weekend, earning her fourth and fifth solo shutouts of the season. She was named MIAA Co-Goalkeeper of the Week.
Wells is tied for 6th in the nation and tied for first in the MIAA in shutouts.
Aubrey Tanksley scored her fourth goal of the season in the 80th minute on Friday against Rogers State. All four of her goals on the season have been game-winners, which is tied for first in the nation.
Washburn Rural product Mackinly Rohn and Muruzabal scored first-half goals in Sunday's win over Northeastern State, while Jadyn Allen and Riley Painter earned assists.
Rohn is tied for sixth in the nation in assists with six and tied for 14th in assists per game. She is tied for the top spot in the MIAA in both.
Washburn is 12th in the nation out of 249 teams averaging 1.90 assists per match. That number is first among MIAA teams.
The Ichabods are first or tied for first in the MIAA in total points, total goals, total assists, total points, shutouts and scoring offense.
MIssouri Western is 3-3-4 on the year after a 2-2 tie on the road against Fort Hays State while Northwest Missouri is 3-4-3 on the season following a 0-0 tie Nebraska-Kearney on Sunday.
Washburn returns back to Topeka next weekend to face Missouri Southern and No. 8 Central Missouri on Friday and Sunday.