AWK’s 2012 NCAA Soccer Preview – William & Mary – Dare They Dream of San Diego?

Mallory Schaffer

Lethal Weapon - Mallory Schaffer Is One of The Nation's Most Dangerous Midfielders

Preview Index

General | Conference Realignment Breakdown | Final 2012 Recruiting Class Rankings | Early 2013/2014 Recruiting Class Rankings | Coaching Changes

Big Sky | DI Independents | Great West | SWAC

ACC – Clemson | NC State
Big XII – Iowa State | Kansas | Oklahoma | TCU | Texas | Texas Tech
Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Pittsburgh | Providence | Rutgers | Seton Hall | South Florida | St. John’s (NY) | Syracuse | UConn | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern | Purdue | Wisconsin
Mid-Majors – Central Michigan | Denver | Florida Gulf Coast | Harvard | Illinois State | New Mexico | Rice | Richmond | Samford | Stephen F. Austin | Toledo | UMass | Utah State | Western Michigan
Pac-12 – Arizona | Arizona State | Cal | Colorado | Oregon | Oregon State | USC | Utah | Washington | Washington State
SEC – Alabama | Arkansas | LSU | Mississippi State | Ole Miss | South Carolina | Vanderbilt
WCC – BYU | Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | Portland | San Francisco | St. Mary’s (CA)

Any questions as to whether there was still life left in the Old Lady of women’s college soccer were answered definitely last year, as William & Mary delivered an impressive double winning season that went a long way in silencing doubters. Those doubts were probably just a bit warranted though considering head coach John Daly and the Tribe hadn’t tasted the postseason in two years. That was particularly perturbing considering the long list of jaw dropping history in Williamsburg, Virginia that seldom ceases to amaze, even in the third decade of the program’s existence. Twenty-four NCAA Tournament appearances. Three Elite Eight appearances. Twelve CAA league titles. Eight CAA Tournament titles. And perhaps the most stunning stat of all, the fact that in thirty-one years, William & Mary have never not had a winning season.

While you could fathom that at a big school in the ACC or Pac-12, at the mid-major level, it’s almost impossible. The Tribe has a trophy case that stretches far and wide, and from 1993-2003, W&M won at least one trophy every year. The Tribe strung together stretches of three league titles, four league titles, and three league titles all in a row at different points in their history while also winning six CAA Tournaments in a row from 1996-2001. They qualified for seven NCAA Tournaments in a row from 1984-1990 and then thirteen in a row from 1992-2004.

Long serving and massively respected boss Daly has done more than enough to ensure he’ll be leaving a great legacy behind in Williamsburg when he decides to step away. With the long run of success though, the two season trophy drought was likely agonizing for Tribe supporters. The program suffered through a similar drought in the middle of the 00s, but at least they were able to reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2004. The Tribe had roared back with three straight league titles from 2006-2008 and even managed an eighth place finish in the final RPI in 2006.

2009 was something of a downer though as W&M slid back to sixth place in the league, and missed out on the postseason after the contraction of the CAA Tournament to four teams. It marked the first time the Tribe had missed the postseason in the CAA era and also snapped a three year NCAA Tournament streak. It left W&M entering 2010 with no small amount of redemption on their minds. After a strong start though, the Tribe began to slump in the middle of the year and could only rise to fifth in the league, missing out on the postseason for a second straight year.

Two years out of the CAA Tournament was scarcely believable, but three would be truly unfathomable, especially given the expansion of the tournament to six teams heading into 2011. The Tribe kicked off one of their most important seasons in recent memory with four wins on the trot, including convincing wins over Big East sides St. John’s (NY) and Georgetown. A three match winless streak towards the end of non-conference play, including the club’s first loss, to Richmond, would take a little wind out of their sails, but the Tribe looked odds on to make a run at another title come CAA play.

It became quickly apparent that W&M was head and shoulders above the rest of the league, as they won their first five league matches by multiple goals. In all, the club would win their first nine games and had clinched the title with three matches left to play, a staggering accomplishment given how competitive a league the CAA usually is. The only blot on their league record would be a 1-0 loss to VCU in the penultimate regular season match. It was no matter in the end. The Tribe beat the second place Rams in the league by a full nine points.

A lack of big wins in non-conference play meant that Daly’s side needed to take care of business in the CAA Tournament if they wanted to avoid a nervous wait for their fate. As it turned out, it offered a chance to avenge their only league defeat, as they and VCU advanced to the final. Despite being outshot by a 2:1 margin, the Tribe hit the only shot that mattered, scoring early in extra time to do the double and punch their NCAA Tournament ticket.

The selection committee did them no favors in the first round, sending them to Chapel Hill to play North Carolina. The Tribe certainly made a go of it though, with a potential upset looking faintly possible after the clubs went into the half tied at 1-1. But the Tar Heels would rise up after the hour mark and scored three unanswered goals to deal the Tribe a lopsided defeat. It wasn’t a great way to go out, but W&M had still enjoyed a fantastic season. After two down years, the CAA’s juggernaut looks revitalized and capable of winning even more trophies in the near future.

It’s easy to be optimistic when you realize that nine starters of last season’s title winning side return for the 2012 campaign. The struggles of a youthful Tribe side in 2010 look to be a thing of the distant past, with Daly’s club this year looking a delightful blend of experience, firepower, and defensive strength. W&M’s offense was a class apart in the CAA last season, blistering league opponents for twenty-nine goals in eleven matches, or nearly three goals a game. The Tribe finished with five players scoring five or more goals last season and get all five of them back for the 2012 season.

The spearhead of the attack is senior Mallory Schaffer, an All-America First Team selection last season after a stunning 2011 campaign. Schaffer would knock in seventeen goals in the Tribe’s winning season, needing just fifty-seven shots to rack up the impressive numbers while also adding six assists to the cause. While the offense will inevitably get most of the plaudits, the Tribe’s defense also held up strong in the league despite the end of season beating at the hands of North Carolina, giving up five goals in CAA play, tied for the best mark in the league.

While defensive stalwart Diana Weigel and starting goalkeeper Katherine Yount both depart, this group doesn’t figure to suffer a huge decline. The latter departure should be the easier solved of the problems, with the club adding U18 international goalkeeper Caroline Casey to the ranks this season. If she’s on form quickly, and the defense can make up for Weigel’s loss, this Tribe squad has the chance to do some great things in 2012.

Goalkeepers

One of the biggest worries facing the Tribe heading into the new season is the departure of Yount, the club’s starting goalkeeper last year. Yount was hardly a known commodity going into the 2011 season having barely played her first two seasons with the club before starting seven matches in 2010. The hulking netminder would more than do her part for the Tribe last season though, starting every match and keeping ten clean sheets, while also earning CAA All-Tournament Team honors after a stellar postseason performance.

Daly will have plenty to choose from as he searches for a replacement for the departed Yount. Casey is the obvious favorite to start from day one and is one of the best recruits the program has brought in in quite some time. A veteran of numerous U.S. U18 camps, Casey has also shone in ECNL action with the Virginia Rush club and has the potential to become one of the program’s greats.

Her main rival for the job might be senior Carla Manger, the backup for the Tribe last season. Manger’s only seen less than ten minutes of action in three years though, so she hardly possesses any great experience advantage over Casey. Also on the roster is Jane Aman, who redshirted as a rookie last season. Replacing a starter, even one with just under a year and a half of starting experience, is tough, but Casey looks like a fine prospect, meaning the Tribe could still be strong between the pipes.

Defenders

The club loses just a single starter, but it’s a big one, as Weigel has been one of the league’s top defenders for the past four seasons. Weigel’s three All-CAA First Team awards, a CAA Defender of the Year award, and All-Region First Team honors last season make her one of the most decorated players in Tribe history. The marauding left-back finished her career with a whopping eighteen assists, a monumental number for a defender. Three goals and six assists as a senior was a big haul, with four of those assists coming in the club’s first five games. While Weigel will be difficult to replace, W&M still returns a lot of depth this year. The club’s other starting full-back, Kiersten Harpe, does return though for her senior season with the Tribe. Harpe has been a full-time starter for W&M these past two seasons but is nowhere near the offensive threat Weigel was. Harpe missed the last four games of last season, which was definitely a blow to the defense down the stretch. Anchoring the club’s back four this season will be sophomore Emily Fredrikson, who started twenty games as a rookie last year. One of the Tribe’s most highly regarded recruits going into 2011, Fredrikson proved to be one of the league’s best additions by the end of the year, winning All-CAA Second Team honors and playing a big role in W&M’s strong defense in league play. With three years of college ball left, it’s safe to say Fredrikson could end up one of the league’s best defenders by the end of her tenure with the Tribe. Junior Tara Connors is her likely partner in central defense, with the Texan having made a big breakthrough in her sophomore season. Connors had started seven games as a rookie but made the leap to full-time starter last season and was excellent in the CAA Tournament, winning the competition’s Most Outstanding Player award after W&M’s triumph. Junior Ali Heck has started nine games in each of her first two seasons with the club and looks like a strong option to either fill in at center-back if needed or even try to fill Weigel’s vacant left-back spot, with her experience giving her a leg up over her potential rivals. Sophomore Christina Popps was one of the club’s top recruits last season and saw a fair amount of time off the bench as a rookie and could push for more time this year. Senior Carson Scott looks like one of the club’s few other dedicated full-backs but has played sparingly thus far in her career and might not see a big increase in minutes despite a need for a new left-back. Even though Weigel’s loss is one that really stings and takes away much of this group’s attacking potential, the Tribe still likely have the league’s best center-back pairing and an experienced full-back in Harpe. Find a competent replacement for Weigel, and this group could again dominate in the CAA.

Midfielders

Schaffer is William & Mary’s offensive ace, and the Hermann Trophy Semi-Finalist will be looking to add to her legacy with another blistering season in 2012. While Schaffer had impressed as a rookie with four goals and two assists, few could have envisioned her amazing rise since. The Allison Park native reeled in ten goals on her way to All-CAA First Team honors in 2010 before last season’s stunning campaign. Schaffer’s fantastic junior year included six multi-goal games and ten goals in the league. After a five game goalless spell early, Schaffer then scored twelve goals in ten games, a run which included a string of six straight games with goals and eight straight games with points. To top it all off, Schaffer finished with all three of the club’s goals in the CAA Tournament, giving her six game winners on the season. She’s a deadly weapon and should have plenty of support this season.

Chief among those other options is senior Cortlyn Bristol. Capable of playing as an attacking option in midfield or out on the wing up front, Bristol has proven herself to be an accomplished goal scorer in three seasons thus far. After a modest rookie season, Bristol heated up to the tune of six goals and five assists in 2010 before winning All-CAA First Team honors last year. Starting every match, Bristol totaled seven goals and nine assists in a sterling offensive season. Some of Bristol’s best moments included a goal and an assist against Georgetown in a 3-1 win and four goals and six assists in CAA play. The Schaffer/Bristol combo looks a volatile one, with enough firepower to blow many opponents away.

The third of the likely starters, sophomore Aly Shaughnessy, isn’t exactly a search and destroy type midfielder despite lesser offensive numbers than her midfield partners, taking thirty-three shots last year. The McLean native did very well in her rookie season, starting nineteen matches and adding four assists while also making the All-CAA Tournament Team. With most of the offensive load to be handled by the other two big midfielders, Shaughnessy won’t be forced to carry the burden and should continue to improve steadily.

William & Mary aren’t exactly swimming in midfield depth, but there are a few experienced options on hand. Senior Katrina Smedley started twenty-two games her first two years before taking up a reserve role last season, though she’s not been much of a factor going forward thus far in her career. Similarly, sophomore Taylor Dyson was involved in twenty-matches off the bench as a rookie but took just one shot and doesn’t seem to be a big threat in front of goal as of yet.

W&M might move one of its copious numbers of attacking weapons back into midfield if need be, though considering the strength of their likely starting three, such a move doesn’t seem exceptionally likely unless injuries hit. If everyone plays up to their talent level though, this group should rip through much of the opposition and could be one of the best midfield groups in the nation.

Forwards

The Tribe are obviously going to get a ton of offensive mileage out of their midfield, but they’ve got plenty of firepower to spare up front as well. Spearheading the formation will likely be senior Erin Liberatore, who started nineteen games last season and finished with five goals and four assists for the club as a junior. Truthfully, Liberatore’s been a bit up and down in her college career, scoring six goals as a rookie but not even being first choice all of 2010 and scoring just once before last season’s bounce back year. She was still rather potent in the league though, scoring four goals in CAA play during last year’s title run.

Likely holding it down on one wing will be junior Dani Rutter, who started every match for the club as a sophomore. Considering Rutter toiled through a rather nondescript rookie season, her emergence as one of the club’s top weapons last year was something of a surprised. Two goals and four assists in the club’s first three games was an eye opener though, and she kept up a torrid pace throughout the season, finishing with seven goals and eleven assists. That included four multi-assist games, including three against Towson in a 5-0 rout in which she also scored. Unknown no longer, Rutter could be a contender for double digits in goals and assists this season.

Two likely candidates for the other forward spot are junior Audrey Barry and sophomore Anna Madden. The experience edge is obviously with Barry, who was a star as a rookie with three goals and seven assists for the Tribe in a great rookie season. Barry suffered through a bit of a sophomore slump though, not helped by missing the first three games of the season. Her offense would dip significantly from her rookie season, with Barry finishing with just two goals and two assists, though both strikes were against league foes.

Madden was the more productive of the duo last season, finishing with three goals and six assists despite coming into the program relatively unheralded last year. She showed her class on her debut though, with a goal and an assist in the club’s dismantling of St. John’s on opening night. The battle between Barry and Madden for a starting role should be a good one, though there are also other contenders to be reckoned with.

The most prominent of those contenders is sophomore Emory Camper, who came to the club last season as a highly touted prospect. The 6’1″ battering ram of a forward only started three matches but was deadly effective for the Tribe, with seven goals and seven assists as a rookie. Displacing Liberatore as the club’s top option at the top of the formation may be tough, but Camper’s a great change of pace as a target forward and should still see a lot of minutes this year while being a big part of the future here.

Junior Lauren Gough showed potential as a rookie, making twelve starts and scoring a pair of goals but suffered through a rather nondescript year in 2011, coming exclusively off the bench and not making an impact offensively. Senior Jackie Blake-Hedges has come off the bench in a handful of matches the past two seasons as well and could battle her way into extra minutes as well this season on the wing.

To this parade of riches, the club adds rookie Anna Platenberg, a Region I ODP mainstay who has been recovering from a knee injury but should be fully healthy for 2012. Platenberg has been described by Daly as a tricky forward, though she faces a logjam in front of her in a race for minutes this year. The sheer amount of quality weapons W&M has at their disposal should be chilling for league opponents, and this group should link up with the midfield to be a destructive unit going forward this year.

Outlook

The Tribe are likely to be a trendy pick this season to do some serious damage, not just in the CAA but also potentially in the NCAA Tournament. It’s hard to argue against their case, too. The amount of firepower William & Mary have available to themselves is simply staggering, and nobody in the league will likely be able to keep up trading offensive blows with the league figureheads. For that matter, a lot of teams from bigger conferences probably won’t fancy a shootout with the Tribe either given the plethora of weapons available at Daly’s disposal.

The big question that might separate this team from being a force on the national level this year might be concerns over how well the defense will hold up against the toughest opposition. They did ship two to the likes of Villanova and Richmond last season in addition to the shellacking at the hands of North Carolina. The Tribe were still pretty young though, and there’s the possibility that with the return of three of four starters on the backline, a more gelled unit could be more effective against sterner challenges. Replacing Weigel and Yount might be a challenge, but it also might be the only thing standing in between the Tribe and a long run into the NCAA Tournament this Fall.

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