Immediate Release: August 22, 2008
There is a fresh air of optimism surrounding the women's soccer team as the Bearcats enter the 2008 season. First-year head coach Sarah McClellan has installed a philosophy that has its roots in teaching with a more cerebral approach, and her young Bearcats (nine newcomers, 12 underclassmen) are embracing that concept as they look to reverse three years of declining win totals following the program's conference title and NCAA berth in 2004.
"We are emphasizing the process of preparing for each game," the former University of Maryland standout said. "We want our players to think at a higher level, make good decisions on the field and sustain a mental focus throughout an entire game. We are teaching the players to create their own success, and they are buying into our system."
Whether that success is tangible in 2008 will depend on the rate of development of BU's newcomers and the increased production of five starters who helped the '07 squad shrug off a disappointing season by advancing to the America East semifinals. The team's strength lies in its central midfield, where America East all-conference player Amanda Casares roams. A cohesive back line with two returning starters will also be a backbone for the 2008 team.
"Nicole is a soccer-smart player, and we rely on her to organize and be a calming presence in the back," McClellan said.
Knopick has speed and can push forward at wing midfield as well. "Stef is a very fit and versatile athlete," McClellan said. "We will need her to continue to develop and play up to her potential."
Looking to lock in starting roles are newcomers Dani Raske and Jennifer Abbate. Raske, a sophomore, red-shirted last fall with an injury, and has quickly emerged as a confident, dynamic defender. Abbate enters her first collegiate season but brings an excellent soccer background from Northport High on Long Island.
"When Dani is 100%, she is a force to be reckoned with," McClellan said of Raske. "She is strong and aggressive and hates to lose."
Adding to the unit will be much-improved junior Erica Goldberg and talented freshman and local recruit Taylor Kucharski, who led her Maine-Endwell High team to four sectional titles and two state runnerup finishes.
"Our back line holds good shape and the group is very hard to break down because they work so well together," McClellan said. "Our backs are also capable of making attacking runs, which is critical in our team attack."
"Amanda is our engine," McClellan said. "We look for her to feed off last season, take even more initiative in the midfield and score some goals as well."
Sophomore Casey Pedersen, along with freshmen Brittany Walsh and Mary DeWitte, will join Casares in the middle. Pedersen, at 5-foot-11, has good vision and can distribute and win balls in the air. She started 16 games as a freshman and contributed three assists. Walsh was an all-state midfielder for East Meadow High who also played for a nationally-ranked club team. Her poise and decision-making has impressed the coaching staff in the preseason. DeWitte also has elite club soccer experience, and came to preseason camp fit and confident. She can play on the back line as well.
On the outside, sophomore Leora Kenney has shown well, with senior Kim Thomas expected to see plenty of time in the midfield. Kenney, a former all-state scholastic defender, played in 18 games as a freshman, and has matured a great deal. The veteran Thomas is returning to form after an injury, and has 37 games of collegiate experience under her belt.
Junior college transfer Emily Cirillo is working to make the transition to Division I competition. Cirillo was a second team NJCAA All-American for nearby Broome Community College, which went 21-1 to capture the national championship last fall.
"Our center midfielders are creative and crafty players who can penetrate on the dribble, combine on the pass and make dangerous runs forward," McClellan said. "Defensively, our whole group is disciplined to find its shape and balance the field within our system."
Joining Haslinger up front is freshman AnnMarie Rizzi, a deceptive first-year player from Cornwall High. Seniors Charlotte Foster and Jillian Fickbohm, along with junior transfer Emily Dixon, round out the unit. Foster is a hard-working veteran who played in 12 matches in 2007 and netted the lone goal in a late-season 1-1 tie with Stony Brook. Dixon makes the transition from the junior college ranks, where she scored 50 goals in two years for Broome Community College, leading the Hornets to the 2007 NJCAA title as the national player of the year.
Sophomore Jenna Luvin, who played in seven games as a freshman, will red-shirt the season with an injury.
Freshman Lindsay DeLap is expected to challenge for time in goal and develop quickly in training. Lauren Zambelli will back-up the goalkeeping squad. DeLap had an outstanding scholastic career for 2007 sectional finalist Webster Schroeder High in Rochester. She is aggressive off her line and will push for minutes in her first collegiate season. Junior Erin Iman, who started 13 games in 2007, will miss the 2008 season with an injury.
"UMass is a very strong team to play early," McClellan admitted. "But regardless of that outcome, how we respond for three straight road games will be critical. We have to turn up the momentum away from home. We've challenged our players to travel well, which they've struggled with in the past."
Binghamton opens America East conference play by hosting New Hampshire on September 28, and the marquee match will be on October 9, when reining champion Boston University comes to town. That night match will be televised live on Fox Soccer Channel. The conference schedule is an eight-game slate that culminates with the top six teams advancing to the America East tournament. McClellan knows the margin of error shrinks dramatically in conference play.
"The conference is very competitive and all the teams are very well coached," she said. "You have to plan on every team being well prepared and on any given day, if you aren't playing your 'A' game, anyone can beat you. It ultimately comes down to who wants it more and who takes the game over."
"This program has a lot of untapped potential," she said. "This year we want the team to gain momentum during the non-conference season and establish a good rhythm on the field. Once conference play begins, we want to improve our seeding for the tournament. But the players will be focusing on each game as if it was a one-game season. We have 16 one-game seasons. If we prepare and step onto the field confident and in the best position to compete, we will be ready come tournament time. This team could surprise a lot of people."
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