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SEASON PREVIEW - BU women’s soccer aiming high as season opens

'09 America East runnersup return strong nucleus

August 25, 2010

SEASON PREVIEW - BU women’s soccer aiming high as season opens

VESTAL, N.Y.—After her young 2009 team won six of eight league games and advanced to the America East title game to the surprise of many, third-year coach Sarah McClellan hopes to build off that momentum as her 2010 edition opens play.

Her ‘09 squad exceeded expectations and now McClellan hopes to reap further rewards of having a freshman class play such a pivotal role. That 9-win runner-up team started four freshmen and had seven underclassmen in the starting lineup.

“Last season was a success overall, considering the youth we had and how much we depended on our younger players,” McClellan said. “We expect a lot more this season. We are better, more experienced, deeper, and more unified, so I don’t think we would feel satisfied with a repeat of last year’s performances. We have to be better.”

Aiding the cause, McClellan seems to have surpassed her high standard of recruiting with yet another impact class. Nine newcomers will hit the field this fall and all are capable of logging heavy minutes. Of BU’s 28 roster members, 20 are underclassmen, meaning McClellan has positioned the Bearcats perfectly for an extended run at the America East crown.

“Our newcomers have meshed seamlessly with our returners and that speaks very highly of our returners to promote such a strong team concept,” McClellan said. “:We recruit players who can compete at a high level and add to our returners; this year’s group is no exception.”

Veteran Iman a strong presence in goal
After splitting duties last season, senior Erin Iman will anchor the team from between the pipes for her final collegiate season. Iman has played in 35 collegiate games and her steady leadership will be pivotal to the team’s success.
She held a 1.39 goals against average in ‘09, sharing eight shutouts.

“Erin is a competitor with the necessary experience and understanding of the college game,” McClellan said. “We will count on her to orchestrate and communicate with our back line as well as dominate her goalbox.”

Freshmen Carrie Martin and Stephanie Speirs will provide support as they each begin promising collegiate careers. Martin was a two-time all-area keeper in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is fresh from a successful summer season in the WPSL. Speirs is a solid shot-stopper.

Defense strong and steady in the back
Three starters return on the back line, which held opponents to just over one goal a game (1.08) with eight shutouts last fall. Senior wingback Stefani Knopick rejoins the unit with an array of strong defenders. The physical 5-foot-8 defender can handle 1-on-1 duties and also push forward on the attack from the left. She netted two goals with two assists last fall and then gained further experience in the WPSL over the summer.

“We will count on Stef to expand her leadership and vocal role in the back,” McClellan said. “We are also working on fine tuning some of her habits to get her to the next level.”

Returning to help anchor the unit are sophomore Alyssa Staubitz and junior Jennifer Abbate — both with starting experience. Staubitz started all 18 games at center back as a freshman and was remarkably consistent. Abbate started 16 games as a freshman before an injury cut short her sophomore season after four games.

Speedy sophomore Meghan Campbell made great strides in ‘09, particularly in spring training, and will be a significant congtributor on the outside. She played in 16 games.

Others in the mix in back include sophomore Mollie Bold, who has transitioned from forward to wing back and much-improved sophomore Maureen DeAngles, who has impressed the coaching staff with her agility and tactical awareness.

Senior captain Leora Kenney, sophomores Amanda Rittmeier and Taylor McCavanagh, junior transfer Keri Iheagwara and freshman Liz Cusato give McClellan plenty of options. Cusato enjoyed a standout scholastic career at Webster Thomas High.

Kenney is a veteran of the program and her leadership, on and off the field, has drawn high praise from the staff.

Midfielding unit is strong, deep
Junior Mary DeWitte and sophomore Emily Pape highlight this group, which despite the graduation of three-time all-region standout Amanda Casares and the absence of injured tri-captain Brittany Walsh, is a strong and very deep unit.

“We lost quite a bit of talent in our graduating seniors but of course we have prepared the way for our returners to step up their game and take the spotlight along with our talented newcomers; they are all ready and willing to be the best midfield we have ever produced,” McClellan said. “I don’t think we will miss a beat as we continue to progress in our expectations and abilities.

DeWitte played 17 games in the middle and capped her steady sophomore season with America East All-Championship honors.

“Mary is looking great and came in fitter than most professional players,” McClellan said.

Pape produced an outstanding freshman season with a team-high four goals and America East All-Rookie accolades. She rejoins the midfield after spending some time up front in ‘09 and will also wear the captain’s band.

Junior Taylor Kucharski has lifted the level of her play and should return to the form of her freshman season, when she started 16 games.

“TK does a great job of leading in the midfield,” McClellan said. “She’s very even keeled, so she helps keep our unit intact throughout games.”

Impressive freshmen Kaitlin Cook, Emma Kurth and Conor O’Brien will see plenty of minutes as each is athletic, competitive and coachable.

The highly-decorated Cook was a two-time all-state midfielder for nearby Maine-Endwell High, an elite scholastic program that has produced four current Bearcats. Cook pumped in 60 goals with 42 assists during her high school career.

“Kaitlyn is very fit and capable of covering ground in the midfield,” McClellan said. “I expect her to develop into a complete collegiate player quickly with her exceptional workrate and competitiveness.”

Talented strikers will boost scoring rate

This will be a talented, competitive group with up to seven players vying for time. After a young unit was held scoreless during the first four games of 2009, McClellan is counting on this year’s group to strike at a rapid pace.

“This forward group is exciting to watch,” McClellan said. “Every single player will produce for us and put the ball in the back of the net. The desire to score is extremely high and we have the urgency and technical ability to make it happen.”

Sophomore Jamie Holliday netted four goals from the right side in a solid freshman season and McClellan believes her game will only improve as she takes on more initiative and responsibility.

After starting just three games in ‘09, junior AnnMarie Rizzi has vastly improved her game and will be an attacking threat from the middle — thanks to unpredictable and dangerous work on the ball.

“Rizzi looks great out there,” McClellan said. “She is going to create all kinds of havoc for opponents this year.”

Sophomores Kerry Sullivan and Candice Rowland look to grow after earning solid playing time in their freshman seasons. Sullivan is a confident central striker with a strong, physical presence and Rowland is a difficult defensive matchup with her speed and ball skills.

Left-footed sophomore Lisa Campbell rejoins the attacking unit. She started 17 games as a freshman and netted the game-winner against Albany.

Newcomer Sarah Furminger and freshman Kaitlyn Martin round out the capable group. Furminger is a former junior college All-American and local recruit from Vestal with speed and athleticism. Martin is an exciting player who creates shots with her speed and tenacity. She was a second-team all-state striker who netted 51 career goals and led Bethlehem High to a remarkable 70-4-7 record during her tenure.

Eight home games highlight schedule
The 17-game schedule begins with back-to-back road games in late August — August 27 at Fairfield ant August 29 at Sacred Heart.

The opener at Fairfield is the first of nine non-conference games before BU begins conference play in late September. The Stags won the MAAC title in 2008 and placed third last fall. After the Sacred Heart match on August 29, BU returns home to face Delaware State (Sept. 3) and Delaware (Sept. 5) in a three-day span at the Bearcats Sports Complex. It will be the first-ever matchup against the Hornets, who play out of the Great West Conference. The Bearcats will then look to reverse a 3-0 setback they suffered at CAA-member Delaware in the ‘09 season opener.

The team will then face a challenge of away games at Patriot League power Bucknell (Sept. 8) and BIG EAST member Syracuse (Sept. 12). The Bison won 10 games last fall and placed second in the Patriot while the Orange have won five of seven meetings with the Bearcats in the all-time series.

Binghamton then plays two of its final three non-conference games at home beginning with a Sept. 15 enounter with top-tier MAAC member Iona. The Bearcats will face Ivy League Cornell on Sept. 22 with a first-ever game against BIG EAST member Seton Hall sandwiched in-between (Sept. 20).

The eight-game America East slate begins with a home match against Maine on Sept. 26. A home showdown with reigning champion Boston University looms five games later on October 17. The Terriers defeated the Bearcats 4-0 for the ‘09 conference championship.

“This is an exciting schedule and is filled with tough opponents,” McClellan said. “Our squad will have to be prepared to perform day-in and day-out consistently at the highest of levels. Our non-conference matches will certainly get us ready for the conference season.”

Potent Bearcats capable of big season

America East coaches have picked Binghamton to finish third in the nine-team conference, but McClellan has her eyes a few notches higher.

“When I look at our level of talent and depth at each position, I don’t see any holes,” she said. “It will be difficult for our opponents to break us down. We can’t wait to play and we will continue to focus on our process of preparation… results will be the by-product of our team’s hard work, focus, and talent.”

Gaining the respect of the league has proven to be more difficult than than gaining victories in the standings. The Bearcats were afforded just one conference all-star last season (Casares) — the fewest of any playoff team. That total team approach has carried the Bearcats into the conference semifinals three straight years, however, and McClellan anticipates a similar youth movement sparking her team again.

“Last year’s freshmen class did a great job providing an immediate impact on the field, but that is a lot to ask from freshmen,” she said. “Now those players possess a vast amount of experience coming in as sophomores and can be even better as we continue to develop as a team. This year’s freshmen class also has quite a bit of talent, but I think will feel less pressure than last year’s freshmen because we have so much more depth at each position.

“Being in the America East final last season was critical for our returners,” McClellan added. “They now know how to get there and have the experience… and will have a lot more confidence in the next final to get after it. This team definitely has what it takes to surpass last year.”

If the 20 underclassmen can make a smooth and rapid transition to the college game, expect the Bearcats to be in the mix for yet another high regular-season finish and deep postseason run. McClellan is excited for the ride.

“We want to showcase what this group of players is all about and just how far we can go with the amazing talent and focus we have.”

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