We are going to do a season preview for each of our Olympic sports teams as their respective seasons approach. Up first is the women's soccer team, if only for the fact that they will be the first team to start their regular season.
2010 was a banner season for Coach Denise Schilte-Brown's squad. The Bulls enjoyed their best season in history, going 14-6-3, and deservedly earned their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Coach DSB's squad made some noise while in the tournament, taking out Auburn 3-1 to win their first NCAA Tournament game in school history. The Bulls hung in tough with #15 Florida State in the second round, but the Seminoles grabbed a late second-half goal to win 2-1.
This season, expectations are high for a squad who return nine starters from a season ago. Striker Veninca Reid (11 G, 9 A) and leftback Angelique Waller (1 G, 3 A) are gone, but there is a ton of quality still here, led by striker Chelsea Klotz and keeper Nicole McClure.
The Bulls vary between a 4-4-2 diamond and a more attack-oriented 4-3-3 alignment. Klotz (11 G, 3 A) will be up top with junior Taylor Patterson (6 G). There will be a battle to take the spot vacated by Reid, but expect senior Noelle Pineiro (3 G, 1 A) and Welsh-born sophomore Sharla Passariello (3 G) to get first crack at the open spot. English U-20 member Demi Stokes and junior Catherine Leibbrandt should provide some excellent depth up top.
The midfield returns all three starters in seniors Gina Pacheco (2 G, 4 A), Valorie O'Brien (6 A), and Rehana Murani (5 A). Sophomore Amber Grose and senior Chantelle Goodson (2 G) were the top back-ups last year, but the Bulls have a couple talented mids coming in, including fully-capped Guatemalan Daniela Andrade and Florida transfer Kayla Bala.
On defense the veteran group is led by junior Boo Eagle, senior Molly Stack (3 A), and junior Kelly Campbell (1 A), who have all formed a nice partnership over the past two seasons. The big question is who will replace Waller at LB, but right now we think fifth-year senior Brittany Pilon (2 A) will get the nod.
Manning the goal is Nicole McClure (93 saves, 0.89 GAA, 8 clean sheets), and she is one of the best in the country back there. JUCO transfer Summer Ikeda will provide cover for McClure and will most likely start next season before Hannah Jasurda takes the reins in 2013.
It was great to see the team go Gaga last year (in fact, they went further in the postseason than any other team sport in 2010-11), and this year expectations are high for Coach Schilte-Brown's squad. Replacing Reid and Waller will be tough, but there are a lot of quality players ready to step up. It'll be interesting to see how the team does with the target squarely on their backs, but they have to come in to this season as one of the favorites to win the Big East (or not).
If the Lady Half-Hoops (This is our nickname for the soccer teams. Deal with it.) can get back to the NCAA Tournament this season, I know Coach DSB will consider 2011 a huge success. Anything after that is playing with house money. The season begins next week in Orlando, and they christen the brand new Corbett Soccer Stadium on August 26 against Indiana.