User ID: Password:

August 14, 2013

Women's soccer team looks to extend streak of NCAA appearances

By: Marc Mullen

Plenty of talent returns to help the Hokies take on a difficult 2013 slate

Ashley Meier (15) should be a top offensive weapon for the women’s soccer team this season after scoring eight goals as a freshman from her midfielder position.

An incredible home slate and a new-look ACC dynamic are the focal points for the 2013 Tech women’s soccer program, as it will attempt to extend its current streak of five straight trips to the NCAA Championship.

Sure, goal scorers and goalies usually get all the headlines, and the Hokies have those two areas covered, with more than 90 percent of their points from the 2012 season returning along with both goalkeepers who combined to average a 0.98 goals allowed per game.

But playing two of the last three national champions in Notre Dame (2010) and North Carolina (2012) at Thompson Field along with back-to-back Final Four participant Florida State and 2011 Final Four qualifier Wake Forest means that things won’t be easy this season, though such a schedule should create excitement among Hokie Nation.

“This year will be tougher than most. We are going to play everyone in our conference one time and then only eight teams make the [conference] tournament,” Tech coach Charles “Chugger” Adair said. “So adding Notre Dame, a national champion two years ago, how is that going to impact it? It’s going to be harder to make the conference tournament this year than in any other.

“Look at the schedule. We’ve got UNC at home, Notre Dame at home, Florida State at home and Wake Forest at home – those are four teams that have been in the women’s Final Four the last few years. So we have a good home schedule, which is going to be exciting, and hopefully the local fans will come out and support us.”

The addition of the three new teams also means longer road trips, with Tech going to NC State and Duke on the same trip and BC and Maryland on the same trip. So the mental toughness of the team figures to be tested.

But Adair and the Hokies welcome the challenges. It’s simply the price to be paid for playing in arguably the best women’s soccer conference in the nation.

“I am looking forward to it and it’s a good change as we grow and we develop, and it will make it more exciting,” Adair said. “It should be a good year for us, and our goals are still to make the ACC Tournament and that would be huge for us and also make the NCAA Tournament. We are looking to continue that run. It’s becoming an expectation for us.”

Only two Tech teams have a longer stretch of current consecutive NCAA appearances – men’s golf and men’s tennis, both at seven – and the five straight for the women’s soccer team is now a watermark for the program.

To make it six straight, the Hokies must fill in the voids left by four departing seniors, including Kelsey Mitchell, who started every game in her career (88), Amanda Gerhard (54 career starts) and Julia Goldsworthy (69). Throw in Anne Lumpkin’s 31 career starts, and the Hokies lost 242 starts off last season’s squad. Those four combined for 17 goals and 11 assists in 2012.

“We’re going to have a little bit more depth up top [at midfield], as far as experience,” Adair said. “We’ve got Shannon Mayrose, Jazmine Reeves, Ashley Manning and Katie DeTuro coming back, and we’ve gained a few freshmen who are going to come in and compete and help us to grow up front.

“I think the midfield is going to be solid. We’re looking to fill a role in that holding midfield spot for us. We lost Anne Lumpkin, who was very good and made players around her better. We’re going to miss that a little bit. We are looking for some of the returning midfielders to step up.”

The group of returning midfielders include junior Katie Yensen, who scored four goals and had two assists; sophomore Ashley Meier, who scored eight goals and had three assists; and Kelly Conheeney – Tech’s first career 20-20 player (26 goals and 23 assists).

Conheeney played in just four games last season because of an injury, and after the season, she received a medical hardship waiver, thus allowing her to return for one more year. She possesses all-conference talent (All-ACC in 2011) and the ability to give the Hokies more scoring punch.

“Kelly has been coming through the injury pretty well, and we’ve been taking our time with her,” Adair said. “There wasn’t any urgency to get her back, and the 2013 season is what’s important to her. She’s coming back for the fall semester only to finish up school and have her fifth year as far as a soccer aspect.

“We missed her last year. She competes. She’s infectious within the team. Her attitude and her desire to win and her competitive nature … she’s a winner and just her overall motivation. We were missing that last year in our late run. I think she’s been the most impactful player throughout our program’s history. When you look at where it’s been and how it’s grown over the years, she’s been one of those players – at least one of the top five for sure.”

Goalkeeping also will feature a senior with tons of experience. Dayle Colpitts holds a couple Tech single-season records, and after this year, should hold career goalie records for minutes played, shutouts and wins.

Her 27 wins and 18 shutouts could also approach arguably Tech’s greatest goalkeeper of all-time – Chase Harrison (2002-05), who posted school records of 41 goalie wins and 24 shutouts for the men’s program.

A lot of that, though, will depend on how the Hokies respond to the loss of three senior defenders – Mitchell, Gerhard and Goldworthy, who all played at least 84 games for Tech in their careers. They rank second, fifth and sixth, respectively, in the Tech record book in career games played.

“The backline is the big question mark for us,” Adair said. “We gave some kids some opportunities through the end of the year. We gave some starts to some underclassmen who were earning it, but we were also trying to gain them experience for this season. Hopefully, they can step up. Taylor Antolino, Dani King, Morgan Conklin and Jodie Zelenky – those are just a few of the returners who will get looks and opportunities to fill those spots.”

Closing out games will be emphasized throughout this season, as the Hokies allowed twice as many second-half goals (12) than first-half goals. Five goals, in particular, stand out to Adair – two in the last seven minutes in a 2-1 loss to No. 4 Boston College, two in a five-minute stretch (67th and 72nd minute) at No. 9 Duke in a 3-2 overtime loss, and one in the 78th minute of a 3-2 overtime loss to No. 14 Georgetown in the Hokies’ NCAA game.

“Those games stand out to me – where we controlled the first half,” Adair said. “There were some adjustments made, and I don’t think we had players that were stepping in and being able to allow us to adjust in the second half.

“I think we have to do a better job of that and maybe even make some better decisions on our side [coaching]. But when we made some changes, the players didn’t step up, and that’s the difficult part. But that’s why I think, with more depth this year, it will help us to make changes that are needed and will help us close some games out.”

Adair thinks his class of newcomers will add depth in every area of the field, as he said it’s a well-balanced mix of players who came to the campus over the summer to acclimate to college life early.

For sure, this team will be tested. Ten tournament teams from last year highlight the 2013 slate, which begins with a home weekend Aug. 23 and 25 at Thompson Field.

But the Hokies have experience, talent and depth. Hopefully, it’s enough to overcome the rough schedule and make a sixth straight NCAA appearance.