Youth will lead women’s soccer

Women’s soccer, long a powerhouse in the NESCAC, brings a potentially explosive mix of youth and experience to Cole Field this fall, and is poised to return to the top of the heap in Head Coach Michelyne Pinard’s sophomore campaign at the helm.

“Every season is a new season,” tri-captain Kristen Van Woert ’04 said. “That’s the most exciting thing about what’s ahead of us.”

Just two years removed from an undefeated season, the Ephwomen seem to have successfully adapted to the new system that Pinard brought with her when she was hired to replace Lisa Melendy in the Spring of 2002. Tri-captain Brittany Esty ’05 thinks that the program has grown tremendously in just the year and a half spent under a new hand. “We’re a young team,” the midfielder said, “and having a young coach with her [Pinard’s] energy and excitement has done a lot for us.”

Last year, the women had a difficult time transitioning between coaches, though they still put together a very successful season, losing to Tufts in the conference tournament final. However, nine players from that team have moved on, most notably forward Stacey Starner ’03, who graduated with a school record 93 points. But that doesn’t seem to worry Pinard.

“I’m very excited about this season,” Pinard said after practice Friday. “It’s so much easier returning, having that year under my belt. We have a few nicked up players from our preseason, but we are so deep that that’s not too much of problem. Our depth is problematic in one way: it creates really difficult decisions for me in terms of playing time.”

One thing shouldn’t be too hard to decide – playing tri-captain Hannah Stauffer ’05. In her first season in Div. III last fall, the midfielder showed that she could effectively link backs and forwards and concluded with Second Team All-American honors. Joining her in the midfield will be Esty, while Terri Van Horn ’07 will sit behind the playmakers and win balls. Expect Anna Gonzalez ’05, Blair Coffman ’06 and Brittany Branch ’07 to perform at as high a standard when called upon.

Aside from the individual skill of Stauffer, the strength of this year’s team should be its back four, which has become a very “solid” unit in Coach Pinard’s estimation. Molly Cahill ’04 will lead a defense of Afton Johnson ’05, Elise Henson ’06, and Pilar Macdonald ’07. Also looking to make strong contributions are Daniela Bailey ’05 and Julie O’Donnell ’05.

Attempting to fill the large shoes of Stacey Starner will be a deep front line. Van Woert, Claire Samuel ’04, Sarah Krygowski ’05, Lindsay Dwyer ’05 and Alix Oliver ’07 all should see significant time up front, looking to put away the chances generated by the backs and midfield. Kate Harkey ’06 should add further talent to the front when she returns from a leg injury.

Lindsay Starner ’05 is the incumbent and probable starter in net, but she has been slowed during preseason by a bothersome ankle. Ready to step in are two talented, if unproven, keepers in Clara Hard ’06 and Sarah Ginsburg ’07.

The spread of class years at all the positions is impressive. “We’re young, but we’re experienced,” Pinard said. “With some of the injuries, some of the bad breaks we had last year, younger players had to step in, and as a result we have a lot of game experience.”

Even more importantly, the Ephwomen want to build on their preseason. One thing that Pinard is noted for is her attention to fitness. She has high expectations and works her players very hard, but this preseason was a little tougher. “I was a little disappointed with the fitness level of the team,” Pinard said laughing. “More importantly, the girls were too.” It appears that this team has worked its way into shape however, as Esty remarked, “My body is screaming at me that we’ve worked enough.”

However, with scrimmages against Div. I powerhouses Yale and Dartmouth, the Ephwomen do not plan to rely just on fitness. Going against stronger, larger and faster opponents forced the team to think quickly and keep the ball running, and the level of technical skill is higher than it has been in quite some time.

Ultimately, the key to the season lies with how Cahill and her backs make a flat defensive line work. Crucial to the success of that strategy will be the play of the goalkeepers, who must deal with the space behind their defense and communicate well. And the play of the front flank players, like Van Woert, Dwyer, Samuel and Oliver, harassing the opponents backs and playing good crosses in will be critical for any hope of a deep postseason run by the team.

“We’re going one game at a time,” Esty said. “Right now we’re trying to feed off of our preseason scrimmages against Yale and Dartmouth, keep playing the ball quickly. Ultimately, we want to win. We are soccer players who love the sport and hopefully each other,” Stauffer said. “Those two things will get us through the tough times.”

Pinard sees a team with “tons of potential. How we come together as a team is what determines how far we go.”

“We worked really hard this preseason,” Dwyer said. “We’re ready to show teams what we have.” The season opens today against the Springfield Pride at 4:30 on Cole Field.