BALTIMORE--The UMBC women's soccer team visits American University Friday at 4 p.m. in the 2011 season opener. The game can be seen live at AUEagles.tv. The Retrievers then host Campbell on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Retriever Soccer Park.
Despite posting a 2-14-1 record a year ago, UMBC head women's soccer coach Alyssa Radu believes things will turn around for the Retrievers in 2011.
Ten of those 14 losses were by just one goal, and Radu says knowing that so many of those games could have gone the other way makes her team even hungrier to earn its first berth to the America East Championships since 2005. One of those losses was a 1-0 defeat at the hands of four-time defending champion Boston University that included two Retriever shots hitting the post or crossbar. No other conference team held the Terriers to less than two goals.
"It's kind of a quiet confidence," the fourth-year coach said. "A lot of those games, both conference and non-conference, we walked away feeling it was it was more on us – us making the mistake that gave the other team a win versus them really just being better than us."
The Retrievers nearly cut their goals allowed in half from 2009 to 2010, as an experienced defense in front of rookie keeper Lauren Kadet permitted just 27 balls to find the back of the net, compared to 51 the previous year. In her inaugural campaign, Kadet started 16 games and played more than 1,400 consecutive minutes, leading the league with 6.75 saves per game and earning an America East All-Rookie Team nod.
"She brings a level of calm and trust to that position," Radu noted. "Her greatest strength is her overall ability to give the team in front of her the confidence to do their jobs to the best of their ability." Just a sophomore, Kadet has been voted a team co-captain by her teammates.
Senior Mo Van Vlerah, who has started 24 games in her career, provides a great deal of experience as Kadet's backup. Van Vlerah is aggressive, and like Kadet, she has exceptional communication skills. She enters the season with 147 career saves, tied for sixth all-time in school history.
"Lauren has reestablished herself immediately, but Mo has also done a great job to improve her game in the last six to seven months," Radu said. "They bring a tremendous amount of leadership, which is necessary from the goalkeeping position."
The Retriever defense will be without junior Katie Gitlin, who suffered a neck injury in the spring and will miss the entire season, and UMBC also lost Erin Johnson and Christine Sadowski to graduation. That trio started nearly every game of their careers. However, Radu feels that the backline should still be extremely deep.
Senior Kelsi Morris and junior Aly Gazarek bring the most experience and leadership to the defensive unit. Morris returns to the center back position after missing most of last season with a broken foot. A transfer from Pittsburgh, Morris played just five games in her first campaign in the black and gold before suffering the injury, but she has been voted a team co-captain for 2011.
"We're really happy to have Kelsi back, she's one of our leaders on the field," Radu said. "She's kind of a field general, and she has great experience in the center back position. She just has a competitiveness and a will to win that forces the rest of the players around her to raise their level. She's just a very tough, hard-nosed, gritty defender."
An outside back, Gazarek has started all 34 games in her first two years at UMBC after red-shirting her true freshman season at South Florida. An attack-minded defender, Gazarek allows the Retrievers to build out of the back.
"Aly is a very good communicator and is just a great teammate that really pushes the people around her," Radu said.
Sophomores Shannon McGuinness and Stephanie Smith and junior Sarah Purdum will also see time on the outside. McGuinness is a very good one-on-one defender who is very composed on the ball. Despite being just 5-foot-4, she is strong in air and plays bigger than her size, and she can also attack out of the back. Conversely, Smith is tall and long at 5-foot-9, which makes her tough to beat. She has a great service, wins a great number of balls in the air and is strong in one-on-one situations. Each player scored a goal in their first season. Purdum is a gritty player who gains respect from her teammates with her passion and determination.
The Retrievers welcome an extremely talented freshman class, and three of those newcomers – Morgan Taylor, Melissa Hummel and Estelle Bol – will compete for time at the center back position. Taylor is an all-state player out of nearby Severna Park High School who was named one of the top 20 players in the state of Maryland. Hummel is a physical but technical defender from Pennsylvania, while Bol, at 5-foot-8, can use her size to her advantage. She and Taylor both come from backgrounds in the prestigious Elite Clubs National League, the highest level of club play in the United States.
Sophomore Jessy Brown returns to the center midfield position, where she started all 17 games as a rookie last season. At 5-foot-10, Brown brings a great deal of height and strength in the middle of the field.
"Jessy is one of the strongest ball-winners on the team, and she really sets the tone with her physicality," Radu said. "As a holding midfielder, she changes the point of attack and can stretch defenses with her long ball."
Senior LeAnne Edgar and freshmen Lilly Rydon and Paige Preston will all be mainstays in the midfield, as well. "They are great playmakers that create and have great vision," Radu said. "They can serve the ball, but they also have the ability to shoot from distance and create for themselves without people around."
In her first injury-free season, Edgar started 13 games last year and scored the first goal of her career, while Radu expects big things from Rydon and Preston in their inaugural collegiate campaigns. Rydon has experience playing at the highest level as a member of the Under-17 Australian National Team, and Preston is a very technically sound player from New Jersey who can play both sides of the ball well.
Hummel and Smith will also see time in the midfield, along with freshman Alyssa Brummitt, who is coming off a knee injury but should play into the Retrievers' offense when healthy.
Savage led the Retrievers in scoring as a freshman, tallying six points on two goals and two assists and garnering America East All-Rookie Team honors. She was one of four Retriever freshmen to earn a regular spot in the starting lineup, starting 15 games. Savage will likely see time in the midfield, as well.
Radu is looking for a breakout season from Piper, who has not scored since her freshman campaign but is physically ready to turn things around in her final go-round with the Retrievers. Piper likes to play with her back to the goal, but she can also square up and attack herself. Moreover, she is dangerous off service and strong in the air because of her size.
McKee has taken 52 shots in her first two seasons but has scored just twice, and Radu hopes she can find the back of the net more consistently this season.
"Her all-out speed and ability to be on the other end of some of that great service out of the midfield makes her very dangerous," the coach said. "She has an exceptional shot with a lot of power, and she just has a natural nose for the goal."
Kopytko experienced somewhat of a breakout early last season, scoring the first three points of her career. Like Piper, she plays well with her back to goal, and she can use her size to hold off defenders and maintain possession.
"The four of them came back in extremely good shape and picked up where they left off in the spring," Radu said. "They have a great combination of skill, and they're aggressive and attack-minded. Rachel has more open-field speed, while Amy is speedy with the ball and finds ways to create her shot. Sarah has great vision and is able to get in and combine, and Brooke is good in the air."
Fifth-year senior Megan McDonald returns after missing all of 2010 with her second ACL injury, and Radu is excited to have the speedy player back. Like Savage, she could also see time in the midfield.
"Megan McDonald has done a great job getting herself back on the field at the level that she can play," the coach said. "Her speed makes her dangerous. She's always looking to put the ball in goal, but she is also smart, so she times her runs to get behind the defense."
The Retrievers kick off their season on Aug. 19, at American University, then play their first home game two days later versus Campbell. UMBC's first night game under the brand new lights of Retriever Soccer Park is Sept. 9 against cross-town rival Towson. America East Conference play kicks off on Sept. 25 against Hartford.
News and Notes
Dawg Bites: Kadet led the America East with 6.75 saves per game and ranked fourth with an .806 save percentage last season… Her 108 saves ranked as the fifth-highest single-season total in UMBC history… Nine different players found the back of the net in 2010… Kadet and Savage each earned America East Rookie of the Week honors during the season, and the duo was named to the league's all-rookie team… Van Vlerah enters the season tied for sixth all-time at UMBC with 147 career saves… Kadet and Morris were named team captains for the 2011 season.
On the Eagles: American posted a 6-10-3 overall record in 2010, but finished the season strong, going 6-2-3 over its final 11 games of the season. Forward Jasmine Mohandesi is the Eagles' leading returning scorer with five points on a goal and three assists. Ariana Efstathiou started eight games in goal last season and posted a 2.13 goals-against average and a .686 save percentage. AU was picked to finish sixth in the Patriot League preseason poll.
Inside the Series: American leads the all-time series with UMBC, 9-3-2, and has won the last four meetings. Last season, the Eagles defeated the Retrievers, 1-0, in Washington, D.C. The Retrievers' last win in the series occurred in 2000.
On the Camels: Campbell opens the season Friday at Delaware State before traveling to UMBC. The Camels went 8-10-1 last season and finished eighth in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Forward Annabelle Gibney is Campbell's leading returning scorer with 13 points on five goals and three assists. Midfielder Pirjo Leppikangas was named to the Atlantic Sun All-Freshman Team after scoring 10 points on four goals and two helpers. Jamie Panfil andRyann Torrero split time in goal last season, with Panfil posting slightly better numbers with a 1.22 GAA and a .797 save percentage. Campbell moved to the Big South Conference this season after 17 years in the A-Sun and was picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll.
Inside the Series: UMBC is 2-1-1 against its former Big South Conference rival. Last season, the game was scoreless for nearly 87 minutes, but each team scored in the final four minutes of regulation, and the game ended in a 1-1 draw in Buies Creek, S.C. Kopytko scored off a rebound of Savage's shot in the 87th minute, but Campbell forward Olga Ekblom tallied the equalizer just 25 seconds later. That contest was the first time the teams had met since the 1993 Big South championship game, which the Camels won, 2-1.
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