2011 NCAA Soccer Preview – Patriot League – Atlantic Treasures

Molly McGuigan

Knight's Time - Army Sophomore Molly McGuigan, A Top Patriot League Defender in 2011 and Beyond

Though mostly unknown and overlooked outside of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, the Patriot League has long served as one of the overlooked gems in DI soccer. Home to nowadays rare stability with the same lineup of teams for a decade strong, tantalizing rivalries such as Army vs Navy, some truly fantastic facilities, and a little bit of USWNT royalty (Navy head coach Carin Gabarra), the Patriot League has been a conference that hasn’t received its fair share of attention in recent years. On their day, the best in the conference can play with anyone. Just ask Arizona who were stunned by Colgate in the NCAA Tournament in 2004 or Nebraska who was downed by Lehigh in 2009.

And there are storylines galore entering into the 2011 season. Can Army keep up the withering pace their defense set last season and go one better to get into the NCAA Tournament this season? Can Eric Lambinus shock everyone again and get Lehigh into a second straight Big Dance? Will Carin Gabarra be able to get the vaunted Navy program back into title contention? How will Bucknell and American do without Christa Matlack and Friederike Engel respectively, two of the best to have ever put on the shirt for each program?

Almost inevitably tight at the top and in the gloves off four-team postseason tournament, the Patriot League promises to serve up delicious theatre once again. And perhaps the chance to see a future WPS player or two in the vein of Lehigh great and current WNY Flash defender Gina Lewandowski

(Teams listed in order of final 2010 RPI ranking.)

When making a first impression, a new head coach can hardly do better than bringing a program to their first NCAA Tournament. That’s exactly what first-yead LEHIGH Head Coach Eric Lambinus did in his first season with the Mountain Hawks last year. An unproven commodity at the Division I level before his ascension to the head role at Lehigh last season, Lambinus was still no stranger to the city of Bethlehem. Instead, Lambinus had been the head man at DIII Moravian, which happens to be in Bethlehem as well. Given Lambinus’ success in turning the Greyhounds into a formidable side, he was a natural fit for Lehigh when former coach Manny Oudin left after the 2009 season.

Oudin had done a decent job in raising a program without much success in their history to new heights in the middle of the last decade, leading the Mountain Hawks to the 2005 Patriot League title, the first major trophy in the history of the club. But Oudin couldn’t translate that into postseason wins, and soon enough, Lehigh sank back into the grip of mid-table obscurity. After a fifth place finish in 2009, Oudin left amicably for the athletic director’s position at nearby Moravian Academy, giving Lambinus the opportunity to make a well deserved move up to the DI ranks.

In truth, Lambinus inherited a team with some solid potential. Lehigh had, after all, beaten Nebraska in 2009, 3-1, at a neutral site while playing Virginia Tech very tough on the same weekend. The Mountain Hawks once again showed their tenacious spirit against a bigger club early on in 2010 when they went on the road to Syracuse and drew with the Orange. Lehigh would win four of their next five, the only blemish in that run coming in a rollicking 3-2 loss to A10 powerhouse Dayton that only served to further Lehigh’s credentials as a team to be taken seriously. The Mountain Hawks would go on the road and draw with Columbia in their last test before Patriot League play began.

Given a tough road trip to West Point in their first league game, Lehigh fell by the narrowest of margins to Army before coming back home and winning their next three league matches at home. After sprinkling in a narrow loss to Princeton in another non-conference tilt, Lambinus’ squad went on the road for their final three Patriot League matches. The Mountain Hawks grinded out 1-1 draws against Navy and American, essentially costing them a shot at the league title, but Lehigh did manage to beat Lafayette on the final day even though their postseason status had been settled after the result at American.

Another hard trip to West Point for the Patriot League Tournament would follow, but Lehigh’s fortitude would carry them home as they edged out Bucknell and then tournament hosts Army in 1-0 victories to lift their first Patriot League trophy, earning them their first trip to the Big Dance. That they were outclassed by Virginia after a second half surge mattered little in the grand scheme of things. You could hardly find fault with Lambinus’ first year on the job, and going into 2011, the Mountain Hawks look like a team with a bright future.

What Lambinus’ first season success also did was raise expectations for the program as a whole going forward. After their trip to the NCAA Tournament last year, it’s likely that nobody among the Patriot League’s other seven schools will be looking upon the Mountain Hawks lightly for the foreseeable future. The increased scrutiny comes in what might be transition year for Lehigh though, as the club loses it’s top four scorers from last year.

The biggest loss is that of All-Patriot League First Team selection, Liz Carlos. Carlos was Lehigh’s leading scorer last season with seven goals and two assists, although that number is a little deceiving since three of those goals came from the penalty spot. The loss of Carlos alone would be tough, but losing the three next top scorers on the squad is a serious blow for Lehigh’s hopes in 2011.

Glynn Fitzer was the team leader in assists with six, including three in league play, while Natalie Hojnacki led the team in match winning goals, with three of her five strikes going down as match winners for the Mountain Hawks. Hojnacki also led Lehigh in goals in league play with three. And just for good measure, the team also loses Lena Cannon, a midfielder who started every match en route to four goals and two assists.

The cupboard isn’t completely bare in Bethlehem, but it’s far from stocked either. All-action midfield senior Jana Basubas looks like the team’s top returning player and is one of the Patriot League’s best. She racked up four goals last season and is the only returnee with multiple goals in league play last year. Listed as a forward on the 2011 roster, Basubas may find herself thrust into a more attacking role as one of the best scoring options returning this year.

The team will also hope for a strong second season from Murphee Greeley, a sophomore who looked set for a great freshman season with three goals and four assists in non-conference play before only being able to play in one match in league action. Reserves Paige Dyrek and Isabelle Li may be asked to step into bigger roles in 2011 as well. Ali MacLeod is the only midfielder not listed above that returns with major experience. The towering presence in the middle scored three times last season and may be counted on for some offense as well this season.

With the loss of all that offense, the Mountain Hawks may have to rely on their defense to win matches in 2011, which makes it a good thing that they figure to have one of the league’s best rearguards this year. The unit should return intact from last season, and in the defensive duo of junior Ardyn Olzsko and senior Genna Pepe, the Mountain Hawks have two of the league’s very best defenders prowling the backline. The Mountain Hawks are really a “safety first” defensive team, but Pepe is really the joker in the pack and chipped in with five assists last season.

Besides the above duo, the team also returns starters Leah Kulp and Hannah Cochran, meaning the Lehigh backline should be among the most experienced and settled in the league. Lehigh also adds promising newcomer Jordan Goodwin to the defense. An attacking full-back for the powerhouse PDA team in New Jersey, Goodwin should at the very least provide nice depth in defense this season.

The only concern is in goal, where long-time dependable starter Lauren Mains graduates. Sophomore Ali Griffin started two matches in goal last season and will likely open camp as the favorite to be in between the pipes for the opener but will certainly face competition from newcomer Ashley Blanks.

Lambinus did very well to come in and immediately lead Lehigh to success but faces a test of his coaching mettle in 2011. The Mountain Hawks haven’t just lost a massive chunk of their offense in the offseason but also the element of surprise, as everyone in the league will be gunning for the team coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance. Having a strong defense bodes well for Lehigh’s hopes this season, but without a proven set of attackers, it’s tough to see them rising above mid-table. Beware of the Mountain Hawks if they qualify for the postseason though as they’ve already shown an ability to find good form when the heat rises in knockout play.

It’s impossible to discuss ARMY‘s 2010 season without speaking first and foremost about their crushing defense, statistically #1 in the country at the end of the season. The Black Knights kept a mind boggling sixteen clean sheets last season in twenty-one matches, actually ending with a higher number of clean sheets than matches won (fourteen). Army put together shutout streaks of six and five matches at different points in the season and only conceded six goals all season. The Black Knights also showed a great propensity of knowing how to win the close ones, winning nine matches by a 1-0 count.

While you could argue that the Black Knights didn’t exactly test themselves in non-conference play, that type of consistency over the course of a whole season isn’t a fluke or a product of easy scheduling. It was an amazing turnaround in form considering Army had been picked to finish seventh in the league in the Patriot League preseason poll. Then again, Army really hadn’t given pundits much reason to expect a strong season after a sixth place finish in the league in Head Coach Stefanie Golan’s first season in charge of the Black Knights. Golan had been Army’s associate head coach at the end of legendary coach Gene Ventriglia’s reign that had brought four league titles and two Patriot League Tournament crowns back to West Point. In truth, Golan had a tough act to follow in 2009 as Ventriglia went out a winner with a title in the 2008 Patriot League Tournament.

While the Black Knights went down in their 2010 opener against Sacred Heart, they promptly reeled off six shutout wins in a row before a loss against Brown. Two more wins on the road before a loss at Fordham set Army up well entering into Patriot League play. The Black Knights would win their opener against Lehigh before going out of conference one last time to get their best win of the year against Penn. Riding a slew of shutouts, Army would go undefeated the rest of the way in the Patriot League to earn a share of their fifth league title.

Colgate would be taken care of in typical fashion with a 1-0 win in the Patriot League Tournament semi-final, setting up a rematch with Lehigh for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Black Knights seemed to have just the better of the encounter but couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net, in the end, falling to a Lehigh goal in the final quarter of an hour. They may not have punched a ticket to the Big Dance, but after a title winning season, there are likely few doubting Golan is the right woman for the job any more.

The obvious question for the Black Knights going into 2011 is if the defense can possibly repeat their incredible performance from last season. While it’d be a massive shock if they repeated the feat of being on top of the defensive statistical charts at the end of 2011, this group still has the potential to be special. The Black Knights have their defensive rock of the future in center-back Molly McGuigan. All McGuigan did as a freshman last season was come in and earn Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year honors in her first season as a collegiate player. There’s no reason to think she’ll be any less dominant in the future for the Black Knights, and she’s got some talented teammates on the backline around her.

Senior Julia Stallard is a workhorse and a versatile defender who has the ability to stick to opposing attackers like glue while also getting involved in the attack and has been a key cog in the Army defense since she stepped onto campus in 2008. Melissa McLaws and Katie Wacker also return after seeing major starting time last season, meaning this backline could be one of the most cohesive and talented in the Patriot League this year. That group also adds in freshman Lara Wilson, a Swiss army knife who’ll likely be slotted in to fill need but who may be headed onto the backline as a full-back this year.

The fly in the ointment for Army as far as defense goes this year is in goal. The team loses Alex Lostetter who turned in a sparkling season after winning the job full-time near midseason from Monica Lee. Lee is likely to get the starting job back this season in her senior season, but don’t count out newcomer Katherine Starr as a dark horse to steal some minutes in the Army net. Starr has good command of her area and Golan has praised her athleticism as she comes into West Point. Also in the mix is Mexico U20 international Linda Rosas from the Real So Cal club.

The offense in West Point is a little more worrisome. This group didn’t do a whole lot of scoring last season, with nobody managing more than a single goal in league play. That could spell trouble if the defense slips off, leaving the offense to do the brunt of the work. The team loses three midfielders from the fore, including Carlie Turnnidge, a tireless workhorse in the middle of the park. The preeminent scoring threat for Army also comes from the midfield in speedy sophomore Kim An. An was a real find for the Army staff as a freshman, with nine goals and three assists en route to being awarded the Patriot League Rookie of the Year award. An was significantly better in non-conference action though, only managing a single goal in Patriot League matches.

Golan will have to hope An grows into her role as the team’s go-to scorer, because there’s not much proven behind her. Left-winger Lindsay Gordon and utility attacker Joey Molacek were both part-time starters last year who need to take a step up, while Donna Bennett was more of a full-time super sub who needs to do likewise. There aren’t too many out and out forwards on the roster, with lanky senior Erringer Helbling the standout. After missing all of 2009, Helbling returned for 2010 and was second on the team in goals with three. Though she’s a big target at 5’10”, Helbling’s also a threat down the flanks with her pace. Deanna Clegg is also an option after starting eight games last season, while Molacek and An could also see time as forwards.

While the defense might not be likely to repeat their #1 statistical finish from last year this season, the unit still has the potential to be the Patriot League’s very best, especially if Lee or one of the freshmen can fill Lostetter’s big shoes. Whether the Black Knights are in a position to make any noise in the postseason will be up to the offense though. Knockout footy is all about getting clutch goals under pressure, and Army didn’t show an ability to do enough of that when the chips were down last year. If that changes, Army could be in a good position to make their very first NCAA Tournament under Golan’s leadership.

The grand architect of NAVY‘s tremendously successful soccer program, Carin Gabarra, could only stare and murmur discontentedly as she watched a season full of promise peter out in surprisingly docile fashion. Owners of six league titles and three Patriot League Tournament crowns, Navy still has lingering memories from 2006’s amazing 21-2-1 double winning season which saw the Midshipmen advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and finish at #17 in the final RPI. Thought of as contenders in the Patriot League coming into 2010, Navy instead were a big disappointment. Gabarra’s team instead missed out on the postseason for the first time since 2005 with a sixth place finish in the league. 2010 also marked the first time the program didn’t finish with double digit wins since 1994, the program’s second season of existence.

Navy’s season seemed doomed from the beginning after a stunning loss to South Carolina State and perhaps an even more damaging draw with lowly Presbyterian. A win the next weekend at George Mason may have eased some fears, but losses to mid-level foes like Texas State and Charleston Southern should have been taken as warning signs. But still, after wins against Duquesne and Penn, the thought was that the Midshipmen still had enough in the tank to make a run at another league crown. Despite a three match road trip to open up league play, Navy had seemed to have coped well with two wins (although the loss was to fierce rivals Army).

With the last four league matches at home, Navy seemed to have been in an excellent position to go on a winning run to close the season out. Instead, they would go 0-2-2, and when needing a win against American on the final day to go to the postseason, Navy folded, losing 3-2 to deliver a stunning end to the season. About the only thing that did go right was the extension of Navy’s streak of winning season which hit sixteen years running after 2010’s 9-8-3 campaign.

Expectations for Gabarra’s 2011 squad may be a bit lower than of 2010’s bunch. The Middies will have to deal with a good third of their offense departing, including last year’s leading scorer, Carissa Youker. Youker seemed to be on the verge of Patriot League stardom after phenomenal sophomore and junior seasons but was a mild disappointment in 2010, ending her career with a still respectable six goals and six assists. The goal haul was somewhat less impressive in conference action with only a goal and two assists in Patriot League matches. Strike partner Christine Calderon also departs after an equally down year. Calderon was shut down completely in league play after three goals and two assists in non-conference action.

There is some burgeoning firepower in Annapolis though for Gabarra. Despite essentially being super subs, towering sophomore Ashlynn Soellner and classmate Paloma Perez combined for eleven goals. Soellner led the team in match winners with four and will likely, along with Perez, be in a position to join the starting lineup. Both are still very young and could turn into the Patriot League’s top strike tandem in time. Sam Newhaller looks like a valuable reserve as well after scoring three goals last year as a freshman.

Departed midfielder Anastasia Abid also played a part in the Midshipmen’s offense, with three goals and two assists. The loss of Abid shouldn’t be too much of a blow with the rest of the midfield looking like it’ll return intact. They’re led by German junior Fallon Puppolo who has five assists through two seasons with Navy. Also back are upperclassmen Amanda Serfass and Brittany Fruin, who combined for four goals and three assists last season. This experienced unit is buoyed further by the addition of a very talented Californian in Kaylie Davidson of the powerful So Cal Blues club. Another new midfield recruit to watch is Ohio native Jade Seabrook, who impressed in ECNL action last year with her Ohio Premier Eagles team.

The defense, reasonably stingy in league play last year, will have to overcome the loss of defensive leader Katie Kelly. There’s still plenty of experience on this strong group though. Captain Kate Herren finally locked down a starting spot in league play last year and finished with five assists on the year, good enough for second on the team. Fellow starters Katelyn George and Kelsey Learned also return, while depth will be provided by recent injury victims Emily Wilkin and Stephanie Strine. The team also adds another strong freshman added to the defense in the form of Washington native Samantha Lee, who may be called into action often as a freshman.

Yet the biggest question on D could be in between the pipes. Junior Hannah Legler got the most minutes last year both overall and in Patriot League play, but sophomore Alexes Lopez-Shaw saw more than her fair share of action, including eight starts with two starts in league play. Someone stepping up to take the job on a full-time basis might go a long way in boosting Navy back up the table.

While on paper, you might doubt Navy’s title credentials after last season’s struggles and the loss of four starters, this team still has some promising pieces to work with. There’s still a lot of experience returning to go along with some burgeoning talent up front in the form of Soellner and Perez. Gabarra’s latest recruiting class looks like another winner as well. And given the USWNT legend’s track record in Annapolis, she might just be the coach to mold those pieces into a contender by season’s end.

AMERICAN has gotten used to the role of being the bridesmaids in the Patriot League over the past decade. Two-time runners up in both league and conference tournament over the past ten years, the Eagles are still waiting to add to their single league title and tournament title in their trophy case won under former coach Michael Brady. After a typically tough transition year in 2008 with new coach David Bucciero, American seemed to be on the up after the 2009 season with the program’s most wins since 2004, a second place finish in the league, and a berth in the Patriot League Tournament final where they were downed in extra time by Colgate.

All of which made last year’s struggles all the more frustrating. American was absolutely shambolic to open up the season, losing their first eight matches of the season and only scoring twice in that period. Then again, maybe opening up with four teams that would finish in the RPI Top 85 wasn’t such a grand idea. The low point had to have been in the opener, a brutally humiliating 9-0 defeat to local giants Georgetown, also the team’s only home match up until a game against Radford in the middle of September. This match would also be American’s much needed first win and the catalyst of a three match winning streak that would give the Eagles some much needed momentum heading into league play.

The team would go 1-1-1 in the first half of Patriot League play, also throwing in a marquee win over Princeton in the mix, arguably one of the program’s best victories under Bucciero. American needed wins though in their last four matches to accrue points in the Patriot League standings, and a winless three match homestand all but sealed their postseason fate. A 3-2 win at Navy was a nice way to close out the year but was ultimately meaningless as American still finished one point short of the Top Four.

It made for a disappointing end to the career of one of the Patriot League’s all-time best defenders in German Friederike Engel. Engel, a former UEFA U19 Championship winner with her Germany youth international side, was All-Patriot League First Team in all four years of her college career, making her one of only five players in league history to earn such a distinction, in addition to being 2009’s Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year. After the end to a glorious college career, Engel signed for Frauen Bundesliga side HSV to play professionally in Germany.

The returning backline is littered with a good deal of players who put together starts for about half of the season but not the whole year. The surest thing may be one of the youngest defenders on the roster in sophomore Brenna Smith. Smith came in and started every match as a freshman and could be in position to take over Engel’s role as defensive leader on this team. Another defensive recruit that is highly likely to see time in the lineup as a freshman for AU is defender Michaela Cowgill. Cowgill’s a big time get for Bucciero and the Eagles, a rare Patriot League player with youth international pool experience with the U.S. youth setup. The New Hampshire native figures to be an immediate contributor in the defense and should cushion the blow from the loss of Engel just a little bit. Also added to the mix is junior Hannah Tatro, a transfer from Miami (FL).

Making matters worse for American is the added loss of starting goalkeeper Lindsey Farthing. The team has senior Arianna Efstathiou waiting in the wings to take over in goal, but considering she lost the job to Farthing at the start of Patriot League play last season, her grip on the job could be tenuous at best. Don’t be shocked if incoming recruit Charlene Belanger ends up donning the gloves sooner rather than later for the Eagles.

If the Eagles can get over their defensive losses, they still have worries in attack though with the loss of midfielder Brooke Sheppard who was the team’s leading scorer in 2010 with three goals and three assists. In fact, Sheppard and Engel were two of the three Eagles to notch multiple goals in 2010, and their departure has to be worrying indeed for AU. With Kendra Jones’ unexpected departure, American loses every player that tallied multiple goals for them last year. Cowgill is one option for the Eagles to fill the breach in midfield, while returnees Michelle Montilio and Allison Slattery were two of the only constants in a starting lineup that saw a lot of chopping and changing last season. Faithful reserve Kristin Piorun could also be pushed back into starting duty either in midfield or up front for the Eagles.

Up front, as you might expect, it’s slim pickings as far as proven production is concerned. Junior Jasmine Mohandesi might be the key returnee, but with six assists and just one goal in two years, it’s safe to say she may be more comfortable in creating goals than scoring them for the Eagles. AU will be boosted if talented forward recruit Nicole Paviglionite, a 1v1 artist also capable of playing in midfield, hits the ground running for the Eagles.

While AU isn’t suffering a serious drop in numbers on paper due to graduation, the few players they do lose were all major cogs in the system over the past few years. Thus, despite getting some talented freshmen into the program, it’s difficult to see anything other than a scrap for one of the last postseason spots in the Patriot League in American’s immediate future. The newcomers should ensure that the future in D.C. is bright in seasons to come though.

Kathy Brawn’s COLGATE team isn’t dropping the hammer on teams as was the case for much of the nineties, but the Raiders are still lively in the Patriot League title race in most years. In truth, the glory years of the nineties where Colgate won nine Patriot League Tournament titles to go along with six regular season crowns are probably never coming back due to some of the improvement that is slowly trickling through the conference.

Of course, the Raiders and Coach Brawn will be quick to point out that the program has also won two more Patriot League Tournament titles and three more regular season titles after the turn of the millennium, including doing the double in 2009. The Raiders are also the only Patriot League side to ever win in the NCAA Tournament, sending Pac-10 side Arizona home with their tails between their legs in 2004.

All of which didn’t really help Colgate last season as they slumped to their lowest win total since 2001. Opening the year with Virginia on the road probably wasn’t the best idea, and it was four further matches before Colgate even got to enjoy a home game in 2010. By the middle of September, the Raiders were 1-6-0 and hurting. Two wins over Albany and Vermont helped, but four straight losses after had the Raiders in dire straits heading into the stretch run of Patriot League play.

Colgate would show their true colors by going on the road and grinding out 2-1 wins over both Lafayette and American before returning home to beat Holy Cross and earn a creditable draw with Army. Losing on the last day to Bucknell could have seen Navy overtake the Raiders for fourth in the league, but American did Colgate a favor with a 3-2 win ensuring they would reach the conference tournament once more. There, Army would end the season with a 1-0 win, leaving the Raiders with a somewhat unflattering 6-12-1 record and their lowest RPI finish in quite some while. The Raiders were in the Top 50 of the RPI back in 2006, so it’s safe to say that the slide to two 200+ finishes in three seasons hasn’t been a pleasant one.

Gray skies could be clearing up in Hamilton sooner rather than later though. First, the bad. The team has to find a way to replace half of its starting backline including Calista Victor, who probably wouldn’t have looked out of place on some of Colgate’s glory days teams of the nineties. Senior captain Danielle Wessler is the returning lynchpin in the back and may be counted on to be the rock in a defense that goes through some big changes. Another key could be the return to form of junior six footer Sarah Henderson who started every match as a freshman but was limited to just twelve matches last year. Sophmore Christy Patterson impressed on defense last season, starting every match as a freshman and could be in line to do the same this year. Newcomer Chelsea Roche is a tenacious defender who should leave her mark on this Colgate team sooner rather than later.

In goal, junior Ashley Walsh looks destined to take over the starting spot full-time again after missing the entire conference season and watching departed Alexis Longwell take up the starting mantle. Walsh, the 2009 Patriot League Rookie of the Year, has the capability of being one of the league’s top keepers when on her game and will be looking to live up to that potential in 2011. Depth comes from sophomore Emma Giegerich who started the match against Lafayette last year as a freshman and took the win in goal.

Also gone is forward Anna Baldwin who chipped in with a pair of goals and assists last year. The good news is that the Raiders have a one-two punch up front that could help fire them up the table. Jillian Kinter led the team in scoring for the second year running with six goals and an assist and more improvement could see the junior in contention for Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year honors. Kinter proved she wasn’t a flat track bully either with goals against Big East sides Rutgers and Seton Hall during the course of her sophomore year.

Junior Alyssa Manoogian is a good second option capable of playing either up front or as an attacking midfielder that added four goals and five assists last season. With two of those goals and four of those assists in league play, she’s proving to be a big offensive asset in league play for the Raiders. Kinter and Manoogian figure to get a good strike force partner up front in New York native Jenna Raepple. The Buffalo native has been described by Brawn as a “pure goal scorer” and could add extra punch to an already formidable frontline.

Maddie Malone could also be a threat in midfield as she had assists against Rutgers and Syracuse among others last season. Oddly enough, Malone’s production dipped against what should have been more pliable opposition in Patriot League play. Fellow starters Elise Amioka and Kelsey Hough also return, giving the midfield a nice degree of experience going into the new year. The unit will be all the better if senior Monica Jensen can return to action after missing all of last season after two seasons of being heavily involved in the Raiders’ plans.

The best news for Coach Brawn and Raider fans is that the program is bringing in one of the best recruiting classes for a small school this year, with special emphasis in the midfield That unit figures to benefit with the addition of Caroline Brawner and Jenna Gibney into the fold. Gibney in particular is a big time get for Brawn and Colgate having previous experience as a member of the U.S.’ U17 National Team pool. The New Jersey native is an energetic distributor who could become a team talisman in time. Brawner is a creative sparkplug who can also function as a forward and should even more zest to a potentially dangerous attack. If the promising midfielders can step in and become immediate contributors, then the forwards could be even more productive this year.

Replacing Victor is still a rather big ask though, and with Manoogian and Kinter just juniors this year, a true title challenge may still be another year away. As is, Colgate should be able to extend their streak of appearances in the Patriot League Tournament with another top half finish in the league. They could be dangerous opponents in the postseason as well as the freshmen find their feet at a higher level.

2011 will be all about Life After Matlack for BUCKNELL, as in Christa Matlack. The graduated forward was quite simply one of the most dominating offensive players in program history for the Bison, and the impact of her departure will surely be felt this season. It’s one of the true shames of recent seasons that despite being a part of two regular season winning teams, Matlack never got a chance to strut her stuff at the Big Dance as the Bison went down in the Patriot League Tournament in each season and now haven’t won the Patriot League’s auto-bid since 2005.

It has to be frustrating for coach Ben Landis who has seen the program come so close on so many occasions but just can’t seem to reach that next level. Landis has been a revelation as coach of the Bison in his six seasons with three league titles but has struggled in sealing the deal in the Patriot League Tournament, including last year where the Bison were felled in the semi-finals by Lehigh.

That Bucknell made it to the conference tournament much less won a share of the league title was a surprise if you looked at the early season form of Landis’ squad. The Bison were shockingly bad early, winning only one of their first eleven matches. Now scheduling teams like Louisville, Rutgers, and Penn State probably wasn’t a good idea for the overall W-L-T record, you’d think the team could do better than 3-0 losses to the likes of Binghamton and Mount St. Mary’s.

Hopes had to have been low going into Patriot League play, but Bucknell defied their early woes and came out firing, winning three of four to put themselves in prime position to make a run at the league title. A 2-1 setback to Army seemingly dented their hopes, but Bucknell got lucky when their rivals dropped points to Colgate, allowing the Bison to share the title with two wins to close out the regular season. The postseason hoodoo continued again for the Bison though as the team lost to Lehigh for the second time in 2010 in the semi-finals, ending a rousing comeback and sadly, Matlack’s collegiate career.

While Matlack may have slumped to her lowest goals total of her career with seven, she was still dangerous enough to claim her second straight Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year gong. The Bison offense ran through their star, and replacing the school’s fifth all-time leading scorer doesn’t figure to be easy. If only that was the only player Landis had to replace this season. The team loses not only Matlack in attack, but also the team’s second AND third leading scorers in Caitlin Holtz (4 G, 3 A) and Kelliann Doherty (3 G, 4 A). Nobody else managed to hit multiple goals last year. Holtz was listed as a defender but played primarily in midfield in 2010.

The Bison also see starting forward Brooke Stokes and starting defenders Amanda Citron and Kelsey Johnson depart. Bucknell was likely able to reverse their terrible opening in 2010 thanks to the veteran leadership of their star players. Another slow start in 2011 probably won’t be met with the same fightback. All the losses just raise tons of questions for Landis in 2011. Who’s going to score the goals? Is a defense that was overly porous last year, even with the vets, going to be able to hold up with some inevitable growing pains this season?

Up front, there’s very little returning production at all. Senior Megan DeGennaro started sixteen matches last season but only scored one goal. Liz Dwornik and Kayla Yee also saw glimmers of starting action but were equally silent in front of goal, and Yee may be more suited to a midfield role in any event. Landis will likely be hoping for some of the new blood to be able to come in and contribute immediately to Bucknell’s cause up front.

In midfield, Clemson transfer Tara Cort was a nice find for Bucknell last year and started every match in her first season with the club and figures to be the old head in the midfield this season with very little else in proven production returning. Key reserve Taryn Boucher is likely to claim one of the other starting spots, but it’ll be up to seldom used returnees or some of the incoming freshmen to claim the other spots.

It’s even worse on defense where the overall depth looks quite short, and the only real experience of any note returning is junior Corinne Collins, and even she only started thirteen matches for Bucknell last season. Landis can perhaps breathe a little easier knowing that the situation in goal is a little more settled. Junior Sandita McDermott returns to man the pipes again, while senior backup Colleen Garrehy provides experienced cover.

The Bison are bringing in a whole lot of players to reinforce the squad with some depth, but most are a mystery and have everything to prove at this level. Honestly, there’s no reason why Bucknell can’t be a big hit at the mid-major level. Have you seen that facility? It’s gorgeous, easily one of the best stadia in all of mid-major college soccer. But after losing so many players from a title winning squad, it’s going to take one of Landis’ best coaching jobs to keep the Bison in contention this year in a conference that’s almost always razor-tight. Landis is certainly a talented coach at this level, but it may take something miraculous for this vastly underexperienced team to make it back to the postseason in 2011.

At one of the true coaching graveyards of college soccer, Mick Statham is finding it no easier than any of his predecessors at LAFAYETTE. Krissy Turner could only win twelve matches in three seasons but then managed to build Monmouth into one of the NEC’s top teams after escaping from Easton. Her replacement, Wayne Miller, came in and seemed to have the Leopards on the right track with two winning seasons in 2000 and 2001 but soon fell back into the pattern of losing that’s typified a great deal of Lafayette’s existence.

Coming into the helm in 2006, Statham has endured five seasons without postseason play and may be nearing the end of his proverbial coaching rope with the Leopards. Statham came in after a stint as an assistant with Florida State and earlier Penn and the WUSA’s Philadelphia Charge. But things haven’t quite worked out in Easton yet, not that anyone else before him really had it any easier. Lafayette hasn’t qualified for the postseason since 2001 and has never actually won a postseason match.

Remarkably enough, Lafayette were actually in decent shape for much of the year in 2010. The Leopards won three of their first five and had six wins heading into Patriot League play. But it was largely a foundation built on a house of cards, Lafayette having only beaten one team in the Top 290 of the RPI (LaSalle). The Leopards were thusly exposed in league play, going winless yet again.

Absurdly and damningly, Lafayette has won a grand total of ONE Patriot League match since Statham took charge before the 2006 season. And that was in Statham’s first year in charge. The Leopards haven’t won a conference match the past four seasons in one of the country’s longest streaks of sheer futility. The long suffering Leopards did get close last year though. They actually drew more matches (4) than they lost (3), and all of those league losses were only by a single goal.

But those losses and draws also revealed a pretty evident flaw in Lafayette last season: they just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net. The team only scored more than a single goal in four matches all year and never in league play or after a 2-0 win over NJIT on September 17. The only player to hit the target with anything approaching regularity was junior Jill Dozier. But even though Dozier scored six goals in her sophomore season, the forward was not a fixture in the starting lineup, coming off the bench in all of the team’s league matches. And much like the rest of her team, Dozier went cold in front of goal when Patriot League play rolled around, only scoring once, with most of her goals coming against dubious opposition.

The only other returnee with more than a single goal is defender Catherine Galgano, a sophomore who probably can’t be relied on for consistent scoring. Lafayette may have to lean heavily on incoming forwards Jaclyn Giordano and Laura Zito for goals as they try to boost a lethargic attack.

Statham may not know much of what he can rely on entering into 2011. The team loses six players who saw major minutes to graduation, three on defense and three in midfield. The former is a bigger worry considering the team had a lock-tight rearguard for much of 2010. However, the team will be boosted with the return of junior Lauren Smedley in goal. Smedley was immense in goal for the Leopards in 2010, likely keeping her side’s season from being a lot worse than it really was with some fine displays in goal. She was rewarded with Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Year honors and will likely be first and foremost in the discussion for the award in 2011.

Avery Jackson will also be one of the few familiar faces Statham can count on in his defense. The New Jersey native stepped into the lineup without a hitch in her freshman season and picked up All-Patriot League Second Team honors in her first season. With so many gone from that defense from 2010, Jackson now finds herself as one of the leaders for the Leopards as only a sophomore. Also back is senior Gina Milone who started fourteen matches in defense last season and will also be one of the leaders for the club. Sophomore Galgano and junior Bridget Becker were also in the starting lineup on occasion last season and could be the favorites to fill the gaps on the backline.

There are plenty of experienced reserves in midfield returning to Easton this year, but there’s no telling which of them will likely joing seniors Janelle Pierson and Julia Bell in midfield this year. Mahwah, New Jersey recruit Nicole Lee should also be in the mix for starting duties in the midfield as well. In any event, given the club’s desperate need of goals, any scoring from the middle of the park will be welcomed with open arms by Statham and co.

Statham clearly needs a lot of improvement in his sixth season with Lafayette. That Patriot League winless streak has to go and has to go early in the 2011 league season. A berth in the postseason, meaning a top four finish, may be desired, but given the heavy losses from last season and the lack of proven firepower up front, the Leopards may be better bets for the basement.

Just when HOLY CROSS looked to finally be busting out of a bizarre three year pattern of four wins and fourteen losses every season with a 7-9-3 2009 season, the Crusaders took a step back in 2010. 3-12-2 probably wasn’t what Darren Gallagher had in mind for an encore after turning a head or two in his debut season at the helm of HC. The Scot had made some waves upon taking over in 2009 by leading the program to seven wins, the most for the Crusaders’ beleaguered program since Mary Curtis won ten matches back in the 2000 season.

Curtis had also been in charge the last time Holy Cross put together a winning campaign, in 1999. 2000 was also the last time HC tasted the postseason, a postseason they made the most of by winning the Patriot League Tournament title, their only piece of Patriot League silverware to date. It’s been a seldom halting nightmare since then, the Crusaders finishing last or next to last in each season since 2003. Curtis departed after that 2003 season that saw HC go a program worst 1-14-1. Replacement Deb Flaherty fared little better in five seasons, prompting the hire of Gallagher, who had been the technical director of Massachusetts Premier Soccer and the Head Coach of the W-League’s Boston Renegades.

After 2009’s upward swing, the new season started out innocuously enough with wins over Rhode Island and Quinnipiac bracketing a three game losing streak. A draw against a hapless Bryant team probably should have been a warning as to the struggles ahead. The Crusaders managed to down Rider on September 26th…and then wouldn’t score again until October 24 in a 3-2 loss to Bucknell. The Crusaders only managed a single point in Patriot League play, in their opener, a draw against Lafayette. What was so bizarre about the sudden power outage on offense for HC was that they had managed to score in each of their first eight matches! The Crusaders didn’t score in seven straight and in eight of their last nine.

If those stats weren’t enough to freeze the blood of Holy Cross fans, then the news that Shelby Stand has exhausted her eligibility should. Stand was Holy Cross’ undisputed talisman and while not matching her tremendous 2009 campaign, did manage to rack up her third consecutive season of at least fifteen points with six goals and four assists and did it even while missing four games in her senior season.

Now the Crusaders desperately need to find a new spearhead for their attack going into 2011. Only two other players hit multiple goals in 2010, Maura Fox and Sarah Kelley, but neither are listed as out-and-out forwards. Senior Liz Early hit for three goals and five assists in 2009 but went pointless last season and may struggle to meet expectations as a #1 option in front of goal. Other options include Gaby Ransom, who had a goal and two assists as a freshman or reserve Hannah Earner who scored against Bucknell last season.

Really, it’s slim pickings for the Crusaders who might have to look towards midfield for scoring help. Fox and Kelley both showed some scoring chops last season with three and two goals respectively to help the Crusaders’ cause. It marked the second year in a row Fox has tallied three goals, and the Shrewsbury native might find herself as the team’s top scoring option by default. Kelley made her mark as a freshman with five points after starting every game for HC and should be an important building block for the future.

Lauren Wright getting an extra year of eligibility should help as well. The Holy Cross captain was an offensive threat her first two seasons with nine goals over two years but was injured for all of 2009 and found it tough going last year with only one goal. A further year removed from injury and she could round back into form for the Crusaders. The solution to some of Holy Cross’ scoring woes might come from one of Holy Cross’ bevy of talented recruits coming into the program in 2011. Molly Briggs and Gina Righini both come to the program highly touted and could feature in the lineup sooner rather than later.

The defense basically returns intact, though they were the league’s worst last season. Micaela Collins, Tricia Giglio, Maggie McGoldrick, and Michaela Morgan all return after seeing serious starting time last season, and Gallagher will be desperately hoping that the group can up their game this season. Recruit Allyson Pasquariello also comes in highly thought of and should be in the mix for starting time right away.

In goal, Mary Ferketic departs after essentially splitting time with Ashlyn Angell for much of last year. Angell doesn’t get a clear run at being the #1 keeper full-time though, because Caroline McCabe should come in and be an immediate threat to log major minutes as a freshman as Holy Cross tries to search for answers defensively.

It may be only his third season in charge, but it’s hard to argue that Gallagher doesn’t face a crossroads season in 2011. With the talent coming in, another finish in the basement is unfathomable. So is a title challenge, but this year’s class could set the foundation for future trophies for Holy Cross. The Crusaders will most likely end up a little short of the postseason but could challenge for a berth yet if the freshmen can inject some much needed energy into the program.

Projected Order of Finish

* = Projected NCAA Tournament Automatic Bid Winner

*1. Army
2. Navy
3. Colgate
4. Lehigh

5. American
6. Holy Cross
7. Bucknell
8. Lafayette

Non-Conference Strength of Schedule Rankings (From Most to Least Difficult)

1. Colgate
2. Navy
3. Lehigh
4. Army
5. Bucknell
6. Holy Cross
7. American
8. Lafayette

One thought on “2011 NCAA Soccer Preview – Patriot League – Atlantic Treasures

  1. TheCross

    You completely overlooked Holy Cross incoming freshman Emily Gallagher. 4-year starter at one of best high schools in Massachusetts, state title, top 3 in scoring in league three of 4 years, one of state’s best in 09 and 10. Legitimate scoring threat.

    Reply

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