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August 21, 2012

Hokies with talent and experience

By: Marc Mullen

The Tech women’s soccer team returns several key parts from last year’s Sweet 16 squad

Kelsey Mitchell

Glancing at the 2012 Virginia Tech women’s soccer roster and parsing that against the Hokies’ 2011 final stats from a team that posted a 14-8-1 record and advanced to the sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championships, it is hard to image anything that could spoil another double-figure winning season, a trip to the ACC Championships and an NCAA Tournament invite.

However, that is a great reason why Charles “Chugger” Adair is coaching the Virginia Tech team.

“As you go every year, you have new leaders emerge, and it’s how do the upperclassmen help manage the team, help keep the team on a path that’s going to be positive,” Adair said. “We lost Brittany Popko, Katie Cramp, Brittany Michels and Rachel Beaumont. They were all very good leaders who understood the program and understood the dynamics of the program and could separate themselves from some of the issues that could derail a team.

“I think it’s important for our seniors that are here, our leaders, to help manage that and help the staff manage that. It’s not just on the field; it’s off-the-field stuff as well. How we stay focused as a team, how we continue to grow and how we continue to build, that will determine our success.”

Those four players lost to graduation were not just good leaders, but they were also winners. They became the first class at Tech to post four straight seasons with at least 10 victories and left the program with a four-year best 50 wins. The quartet also became the first graduating class to see the NCAA postseason tournament in each of their four years with the Hokies.

The Hokies’ quintet of seniors this season can only match a four-year run with another NCAA berth, but with 11 wins, the class would push past last year’s class for the most wins in a four-year span. However, with all the recent success, instilling the sense that there is still more to accomplish is paramount to Adair.

“Letting the girls recognize it’s a new season and it’s a new team, with new teamdynamics, that we are moving forward to get better and not just thinking that we’re just going to show up,” Adair said as in how to get his team motivated. “There are going to be new questions asked of this team and new things developed throughout the season, so we’ve been trying to grind that into them since they came back in January.

“I think we’ve done a good job in the past. Last year, we did talk about the seniors being the first four-time [NCAA] players in the program. So we talked about a lot last year and this year, and we’re going to need to get the mentality that this is the way it’s going to be – the expectation that we make the ACC Tournament, the NCAA Tournament and then see what can happen from there.

“We need to continue to push the girls. I tried to remind them before they left [for the summer] that we haven’t accomplished anything in this year. All the stuff that we did was in 2011, and 2012 is a new year and it started already when we started training. I tried to send them off with that thought that their preparation is extremely important to get us off on the right foot as we go into our non-conference and our conference season.”

Among the returnees that Adair will lean upon to make a successful transition into 2012 includes the team’s top five point scorers from a year ago in seniors Kelly Conheeney (12 goals, six assists) and Anne Lumpkin (3 and 4), juniors Shannon Mayrose (9 and 3) and Jazmine Reeves (5 and 9) and sophomore Kelsey Loupee (2 and 7).

The team also has three seniors returning on the back line, each of whom started and played in all 23 games for Tech last year. They include Kelsey Mitchell, who has started every game (65) since arriving in Blacksburg, Amanda Gerhard (36 career starts) and Julia Goldsworthy (50). Add in talented goalkeeper Dayle Colpitts, and the holes in a lineup look very limited.

“Yes, we do have three defenders coming back, but we’ll be missing a center back – Michels, who was a four-year starter there,” Adair said. “Kelsey Mitchell slid in from right back into a center back role during the season for us. She’s not a center back by trade, so we’ll need to fill in that center back spot, but having three seniors will help us for sure.

“Then we need to fill a role as a holding center mid or a center-mids job, which was Brittany Popko’s. She did a lot of non-glorious work for us – ball-winning, kind of roll-up-your-sleeves-and-battle-for-the-ball work. So I think we’ll miss that in the midfield.

“I do think we have a number of players that can step in and do that job for us, one of them being incoming Ashley Meier or Kelsey Loupee. Katie Yensen did a good job for us playing in the midfield before. So we have a handful of kids who can step in and do that for us. Courtney Stutts, possibly. So we’re just looking to fill that role as well.”

One last thing that Adiar has pointed to that could slow down his team – at least at the start of the season – is the spectacle that is the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup that will take place in Japan this August and early September.

Two players – Colpitts and Meier – could have the opportunity to be called up by their respective national teams to participate in the event. Colpitts actually helped the Canadian team reach the world cup in the CONCACAF qualifier back in March, while Meier played for the USA team in a pair of matches in Japan in June.

“I’m looking forward to the year,” Adair said. “I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little bit nervous because of all the variables at the start of this season. I think we’ll have to do a good job of sorting that out. Who goes and who stays, and we aren’t the only team out there that’s handling that. Illinois’ coach (Janet Rayfield) is gone with the U-20 team, and everyone in our conference has that one special player missing for the start of the season.

“I am looking forward to the challenge and the start of the season for us. I think the girls are as well. I have been pleased with their work rate in the offseason, their bonding and their preparations so far, from what I’ve seen and heard.”

The women’s team kicks off its season by serving as the hosts of the Virginia Tech Tournament over the August 17-19 weekend against UNC Wilmington and Richmond. The schedule also consists of nine NCAA teams, seven that made the sweet 16 and three Final Four squads.

That makes for a tough test, but one the Hokies will be ready for if Adair has anything to say about it.