2000 Women's Soccer Outlook
New head coach Michelle Salmon is implementing a new attitude, which she hopes will help point the Retrievers on course to challenge for a Northeast Conference Championship.
"The first step is for our players to approach the game with a different mentality and play with more confidence," Salmon explained. "I'm pleased with the effort I've seen so far. The team worked extremely hard during the off-season and we closed out the spring with a win against George Mason. I think our kids are excited about the game again, and that's a very good sign."
Another good sign is the health of senior Erin Lesh, UMBC's third all-time scoring leader. Lesh, who missed nine games last season with an ankle injury is expected to be at full strength this season. Lesh is one of the top goal scoring artists in the NEC and her absence last season was a major factor in the Retrievers' offensive difficulties.
"Every game, Erin has the ability to step onto the field and be the best player out there," said Salmon. "She means so much to us in so many ways. She is a great leader and role model for the other players because they see how hard she works. On the field, she opens things up for others because she constantly attracts extra defenders. When she does get the ball, everyone rises from their seats because there's always a feeling that something exciting is going to happen." Salmon, who served as UMBC's assistant coach during the 1999 campaign, promises that her team will play an exciting brand of soccer under her guidance. "We really are going to try and take advantage of our talent and speed this season. We want to work the ball out of the back and really attack with some fury. I think we will be strong in the back and that should enable us to go forward and attack consistently throughout the game. Our major emphasis will be on scoring goals. If that means outscoring our opponents, 5-4, every game, then at the end of the day we will be the ones walking off the field with a victory."
In addition to Lesh, senior fullback Danielle Konschak, junior midfielder Viviana Sareceno and classmate Jamie Gerhart are also expected to play major roles this season. According to her coach, Konschak was UMBC's most consistent player last season after transferring from Essex Community College. Konschak plays the game with a great deal of enthusiasm and heart and brings a physical style of play on gameday. "Danielle gives you every ounce of energy that's in her body and players respond to that." Sareceno has the ability to control the game from her center midfield post and also has a tremendous love for her sport. "Viviana is a great leader because she is vocal and demanding. She's improved tremendously since the end of the season." Gerhart, a Second Team All-NEC selection in 1999, has the ability to play anywhere on the field because of her great athleticism and speed, but is expected to see most of her time as a defender. "Jamie is another player that loves to compete and other players enjoy being around her."
With the exception of Lesh, the remaining spots at forward are expected to be wide open this season. One variable factor surrounding UMBC's attack will be the return of sophomore striker Nicole Grinspoon, who scored ten goals and was the NEC Rookie of the Year in 1998. If she can regain her form after missing the 1999 campaign, the Retrieversí offense should be potent once again. "When Nicole is fit she is very dangerous," said Salmon. "I'm just thrilled that she's a part of the program again. She has a great drive to be successful both on and off the field." Sophomore Laura Motley, junior Liz Farell and freshman Tess Reitz are also expected to play key roles up front. Motley proved as a freshman that she is quick with the the ball and has a strong shot. Farrell and Reitz will be looking to recover from injury plagued seasons. Tri-captain Beth Quintavalle started 14 games last season and will be joined this season by her sister Lori Quintavalle, who is expected to make an impact as a freshman.
The midfield should be a strong with Sareceno anchoring the unit. Junior Jennifer Wilhelm will fill a defensive center midfield role and has the ability to control the midfield and dominate balls in the air. A pair of sophomores, Katie Zoller and Caitlin Kinsella, received valuable playing time a season ago and will be counted on at outside midfield. Zoller brings consistency to the position and excels at serving the ball up the field. Kinsella has improved her speed during the off-season and adds some flair to the game. Sophomore Kim Peterson has been fighting an ankle injury but is expected to fill a role this season as well.
Salmon is very excited about the depth on defense. In addition to the aforementioned Konschak and Gerhart, sophomores Milana Ward, Staci Grider, Erin Boyst as well as senior Jennifer Kuehn will get long looks from their first year coach. Ward must prove that she has recovered from knee surgery while Boyst and Grider turned in strong performances during the spring season. Kuehn did not play in 1999 and her return gives UMBC another experienced option. Three newcomers, freshmen Jessica Karko, Jackie Curry, and sophomore transfer Kristen Gayo will also challenge for playing time. Karko excells at winning balls, while Curry and Gayo bring tremendous quickness.
The battle for the starting goalkeeping position will be hotly contested between sophomore Becky Hicock and transfer Nicole Jantz (East Carolina). Hicock displayed great promise as a freshman and started ???? She is a very good shot stopper and her booming punts allow the Retrievers to immediately be on the attack. Jantz provides consistency and can also make the big save. "Whoever comes into the pre-season in the best shape and plays the best will win the starting job," Salmon stated.
Salmon feels that UMBC's non-conference schedule is the toughest in the league and was made with the focus of preparing her team for the NEC battles that lie ahead. She's scheduled teams she feels will make the team better and doesn't want her team to face a top team for the first time if the Retrievers are fortunate enough to play in the NCAA's.
As far as the league is concerned, Salmon expects Long Island, Monmouth, Quinnipiac, and Central Connecticut to all be extremely strong this season."
"One thing we know is that every game in our conference is going to be a battle. Our games are always physical and usually one goal is going to decide the outcome."
If the Retrievers do win the crown, they will do so on their own turf as UMBC hosts the four-team tournament from October 27-29.
"It's a great incentive for our team," Salmon said. "We don't want four other teams playing on our field.
Salmon feels that winning the NEC and advancing to their first NCAA Tournament is within her teams' grasp. "I don't feel like we were that far off last season and I believe we will be much improved. The players have already stated that winning the conference is their goal."
Another very good sign.