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August 17, 2010

Dealing with success - The Tech women's soccer team begins the 2010 season in an unfamiliar but enjoyable position

By: Matt Kovatch

Kelly Lynch will serve as one of the Hokies' four senior captains, and her experience as a threeyear starter will be important for a defense that will be breaking in a new goalkeeper.

For years, the Virginia Tech women’s soccer team played with its “back against the wall,” as head coach Kelly Cagle put it. The Hokies were constantly trying to get over the proverbial hump, searching for those elusive, program-changing victories over the perennial powers of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“We spent our first few seasons in the ACC with a lot of ‘must-haves’ and ‘need-tos’ and ‘must-dos,’” she said, alluding to the pressure felt by her players to come up with something big. “We’d rather be in a position where we can afford to take risks in the ACC season.”

Tech finally got the monkey off its back in 2008 by earning the program’s second NCAA Tournament bid, and for those who may have forgotten, then had one of the best seasons ever by a Tech women’s team in any sport when it advanced to the Sweet 16 last year.

As the memorable 2009 campaign played out and the wins added up – Tech began the schedule with a 10-2 record that included seven consecutive victories – the Hokies gained an increasing amount of confidence.

“That was probably one of the most special opportunities we had last year,” Cagle added. “That seven-game winning streak really gave us a cushion to be able to play with some joy and a sense of peace, and to let the results take care of themselves.”

Because of that, the Hokies could afford to go for the jugular, so to speak, instead of playing it safe and playing not to lose. As a result, they came up with victories over No. 1 North Carolina, No. 5 Wake Forest and No. 18 Virginia in the regular season, Wake Forest again in the ACC Tournament, and then No. 23 Dayton in the NCAA Tournament. It’s a formula that Tech hopes to follow again this season, though last year’s success may make it a bit tougher to pull off.

“It’s a pretty tough schedule for us this year,” Cagle said. “If we’re not on top of our game, we could start out in a deficit early on. We are going to be challenged immediately, but I’m glad it’s happening this year because I think we’ve taken a step forward as a program. We’ve got to have that respect of how tough it was to do what we did last year.”

It’s going to be key for the Hokies to avoid any slip-ups early on and not to dig themselves a hole, because due to all of their big wins and national success a year ago, the Hokies might have a bit of a target on their backs in 2010. But that’s better than having their backs against the wall.

“Playing non-conference opponents early on, we’ll always be their target because we’re the team they think they can beat in the ACC,” Cagle said. “I think there are still programs out there that take us for granted, but I think it’s the maturation process of our program to understand that there are going to be less of those teams and more teams that are going to take us seriously. We have to understand that and be able to deal with it by taking one game at a time, not looking past any certain match-up and being humble enough to respect each of our opponents.”

Kelly Conheeney returns after scoring nine goals in a rookie season that earned national attention from Soccer America.

Fortunately, in 2010 Tech brings a big group of players back to the pitch who have been through that maturation process. In fact, the roster features eight players who have started at least 19 games each in either 2008 or 2009, and Cagle ventured a guess that this would be the most ‘minutes played’ she’s returned on one team in her eight-year tenure. Included among all those minutes are the top three goal scorers from a year ago in seniors Marika Gray (10 goals) and Jennifer Harvey (nine), as well as sophomore Kelly Conheeney (nine), who was named to the Soccer America All-Freshman Team as a rookie.

The back half of the field also looks to be in good shape, as seniors Kelsey Billups and Kelly Lynch – both three-year starters – return to head up an impressive group of defenders and midfielders. Juniors Brittany Michels and Brittany Popko, as well as sophomore Kelsey Mitchell, were all vital pieces of a strong defensive unit last season that helped the team tie the school’s defensive shutout record with nine.

The Hokies even have an impressive crop of six freshmen joining the squad, two of whom – Katie DeTuro from Brick, New Jersey, and Jazmine Reeves from Dover, Delaware – could contribute right away.

“Katie could impact us up front or in the midfield,” Cagle said. “Jazmine is very versatile and very athletic. She can replace some of what [departed senior] Julian Johnson gave us. Their summer preparation, on top of their talents, will really help them vie for a spot.”

Seemingly, the only question mark on the roster is at goalkeeper, where former starter Kristin Carden decided not to return. Cagle must now decide between senior Rebekah Brook, who made just three starts in 2009, and true freshman Dayle Colpitts, who comes to the program with experience on Canada’s youth national team.

“We hope that position is competitive and we expect for Dayle to compete for the job right away,” Cagle said. “She and Rebekah will work well together. She’s going to be an unbelievable part of our team culture, which is especially important from that goalkeeping position as a leader from the back.”

Whoever ends up claiming the goalkeeping spot, or even if it’s a timeshare between the two, is going to have to perform from day one. Great team efforts are a result of great individual performances, and if the Hokies hope to repeat last season’s success, they’re going to need plenty of both.

“For any team to get to the Sweet 16, that’s a special year,” Cagle said. “We need to remind ourselves of that – not because we’re not expecting to get back, but because it takes a special effort to get there. We hope to use last season as a springboard in terms of building confidence, but to keep humility in our program is going to be a very important thing.”

For The Official Women's Soccer Roster click here.

For The Official Women's Soccer Schedule click here.