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2003 Preview
Women's soccer looks to recharge offense

Two seasons removed from owning the fifth-highest scoring offense in the nation, head coach Jeff Leightman will look to restore that potent attack as the 2003 campaign opens. After witnessing a 21-goal drop from his team’s 2001 efficiency (55 goals) and seeing the program’s string of double-digit wins end at 13 seasons, Leightman is counting on better fortunes up front as his program enters its second season in the America East Conference.

Despite netting 34 goals last season, including 12 by senior striker Tracy Kasmarcik, BU’s offense sputtered in conference games. The team managing just three goals in its final seven America East contests, and that shortage led to three one-goal defeats and subsequent omission from post-season – just the third time in the last 15 years that the Bearcats didn’t gain a post-season invitation.

“Scoring is a mindset,” Leightman said. “In 2001 we knew we were going to score and had so much confidence. Last year when we hit posts and crossbars, heads went down and we just got to the point where we knew we weren’t going to score. Success breads success, and failure breads failure. When we played with a lead last year, we were 9-0, so that tells you how crucial the first goal is. Hopefully we can build that scoring mentality.”

Roster is loaded with youth
The off-season was a busy one for Leightman, who beefed up his program with 13 newcomers – all freshmen. How quickly those rookies - including the program’s lone goalkeepers - develop will help determine the team’s success in 2003. Sixteen of BU’s 23 roster spots are now filled by underclassmen, and there could be as many as seven underclassmen in the starting lineup.

While that contingent lacks collegiate experience, it does provide sheer athletic numbers — a luxury Leightman ran short of last season.

“We were certainly hurt by our lack of depth last year,” Leightman said.

Kasmarcik carries load on offense
Leightman knows his team must capitalize on its aggressive attack to move up the ranks in the America East Conference, and BU’s fortunes up front remain heavily weighted upon Kasmarcik, a first-team All-America East pick who has led the team in scoring all three collegiate seasons. The 5-foot-7 speedster was a second team all-region pick by both the NSCAA and SoccerBuzz, and her 95 career points ranks fourth on BU’s all-time list. Kasmarcik tends to score in bunches (10 multiple-scoring games) but will have to assert herself on a consistent basis against America East foes, who held the 39-goal career scorer in check last season.

“Tracy is a game-breaker,” Leightman said. “You can keep her contained for 89 minutes but then she’ll score two goals or set up two in a span of a minute. She’s one of those special kind of players. Last year, she got a bit unlucky with a scoring drought, but hopefully this season she’ll be able to bury balls in the back of the net again. Tracy creates chances that most others can’t, and on any given day she is the most dangerous player on the field.”

Joining Kasmarcik at the top of Leightman’s 3-5-2 alignment is freshman Kelly Burnham – who like Kasmarcik is a homegrown talent from nearby Endicott, N.Y. Burnham was a two-time all-state forward for Union-Endicott High School, and like her senior linemate, has a knack for the goal, as witnessed by her 22 goals for U-E last season.

“Kelly is very athletic and has a goal scorer’s mentality,” Leightman said. “She works incredibly hard and has a nose for the goal. She has a great collegiate career ahead of her. We have just begun to see the tip of the iceberg with regard to her skills.”

Graduate student Irene Morales and freshman Danielle White should see some time up front as well. Morales, a three-year veteran, has an outstanding work rate, while White was an all-state striker for Haddon Township in New Jersey, and has impressed the coaching staff in pre-season.

Co-captains anchor midfield
In Leightman’s five-player formation, this unit will be expected to push forward and contribute at the offensive end. All five projected starters are returnees, headed in the middle by junior co-captains Deli Plourde and Caitlin O’Shaughnessy. Both players were starters last season, with O’Shaughnessy collecting six points and Plourde adding five. The diminutive Plourde distributes the ball well, while O’Shaughnessy can utilize her speed to join the attack. Both players will play pivotal roles in Leightman’s scheme.

“Caitlin has had a great pre-season and is playing in top form,” Leightman said. “She gives us an attacking presence out of the center midfield, and we’re counting on her to take over the role of (graduated) Amanda Norman. Deli is a very skillful player who is also a great leader on and off the field.”

Steady sophomore Lauren Massey returns to the middle, in a primarily defensive role. The Ontario native earned America East and SoccerBuzz All-Rookie honors last fall after tallying six points and playing strong on-the-ball defense. She is a durable athlete who Leightman will depend on as both a ball-winner and playmaker.

Set to occupy the flanks are senior Danielle Kosecki and sophomore Kelly Sanders. Kosecki is returning to form after off-season back surgery – an injury that limited her role last season. The three-year letterwinner possesses outstanding fitness, and could be primed for a strong campaign. Sanders meanwhile, started 12 games as a freshman, and has impressed Leightman with her improved speed and attacking ability.

Back line is team’s strongest unit
This unit was solid in 2002, and should be an even bigger asset in 2003. A year after injuries led to a nine-player rotation in back, Leightman has four strong defenders, led in the middle by all-conference selection Meghan Taylor. As a freshman, Taylor started all 18 games in back, and registered five points while anchoring a unit that held opponents to nearly one goal a game (1.1) in 2002. Back to Taylor’s left is sophomore Vicky Vernicek, who started six of eight games before shin splints curtailed her freshman campaign. Both players elicit strong praise from Leightman.

“As defenders go, Meghan is as tough as they come,” he said. “She is deceptively quick and doesn’t get beat very often. She has a great defender’s mentality. And Vicky has restored her fitness after her injury, and is quick and confident. She is becoming the defender we’ve wanted her to be.”

The back line was bolstered with the addition of junior Tatiana Mathelier - a gifted athlete who moves from forward to defense. Mathelier, whose production was hampered by injuries, was nonetheless BU’s second leading scorer last season with five goals and 15 points. Leightman is banking on her speed and athleticism in her new role on the back line.

Freshman Erica Eddy is another local recruit who will play a key role in 2003. The former all-state scholastic midfielder and five-year letterwinner for Norwich High is a very strong defender who can also move up to midfield.
Overall, the defensive unit is a key strength, especially as Leightman breaks in two freshmen keepers in 2003.
”Our speed and athleticism is much better in back,” he said. “We can become a cohesive unit and hopefully build a trust back there that we won’t be beat very often.”

Immediate challenge for first-year goalkeepers
With the graduation of acrobatic all-conference keeper Lauren Cherry, BU loses the luxury of a game-saving veteran. Two freshmen, Kristie Bowers and Kristy Doerner, begin their collegiate careers, with Bowers likely getting the starting nod. A former all-state keeper for Greece Olympia High, Bowers captained her team to the sectional quarterfinals last fall, recording the most saves in school history.

“Kristie has very good confidence for a freshman, and she is very vocal,” Leightman said. “She takes charge of the defense, and organizes us well.”

Doerner, meanwhile, was a three-time all-conference keeper for Shoreham-Wading River High. She set the school’s shutout record with seven during her junior season.

“Any time you have two freshmen keepers with nobody to learn from, there is a mystery there,” Leightman said. “We need one of them to step up and mature very quickly, and Kristie has done that. But only time will tell. Our defenders will have to develop a trust, and work harder to protect our goal.”

Schedule is most demanding in program history
The Bearcats have little room to breathe during an 18-game regular-season (8 home, 10 away) that begins with an away encounter at Big East member Syracuse, and also features six straight road games in late September. In addition to the season-opener against the Orangewomen, BU has a challenging non-conference slate which also includes West Virginia, Navy, St. John’s and UMass. In Morgantown, W.Va., the Bearcats will face a premier squad that went 18-3-1 and advanced to the NCAA second round in 2002. Navy lost just once in 21 games, while St. John’s won 11 games and captured the ECAC Championship.

In addition, the Bearcats will face a Niagara team that advanced to the ECAC tournament, and St. Bonaventure and FDU teams that won 10 and nine games, respectively, in 2002. In all, it is the toughest schedule ever thrust upon a BU team, and Leightman hopes that early-season experience will pay off in October, when the Bearcats close out their season with eight-straight America East games.

“I think the schedule is the most challenging we’ve ever had,” Leightman confessed. “We’ll see a bunch of regionally top-10 teams and a national top-5 program in West Virginia. We’ve got a lot of long road trips and six straight away games in September. That should really prepare us for the conference schedule.”

Bearcats need to zero-in on conference games
The shortcomings during a solid 9-7-2 season in 2002 were limited to a handful of games against America East foes, when the Bearcats weren’t as focused as their opponents. Not having played conference games since 1999 hurt the team, which seemed to lack the intensity needed for tight conference play. Leightman hopes that learning curve will reap benefits during 2003 league matches.

“I think we went into last season not realizing how important America East games were. Now we know that these games in September are to prepare us for October, and we’ve got to be peaking in October and not necessarily now.”

Return to post-season remains the primary goal
Having lost four starters and loaded with youth, BU was picked to finish seventh in the 10-team America East Conference. With the addition of Maryland, Baltimore County, the top six teams will advance to the conference tournament in 2003. But despite the frustration of back-to-back 1-0 conference defeats that ended BU’s 2002 post-season hopes, Leightman feels his team has the ability to win every time out, as witnessed in BU’s 1-0 upset of conference champion and pre-season pick Hartford last October. In fact, the Bearcats’ margin of defeat in four conference losses was a combined five goals – meaning the program isn’t too far away from contending.

“I think last year we showed other teams what Binghamton soccer is all about – from a performance standpoint,” Leightman said. “But I’m not sure we showed our ability in terms of outcome. We want to get better every game and be playing our best soccer in November – and be playing in the America East tournament.”

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