After producing an 8-10 record and finishing ninth in the America East in 2004, the UMBC women's soccer team returns nine of 11 starters and boasts a strong incoming class of three freshmen and two transfers, making Head Coach Michelle Salmon optimistic about the 2005 season.

"Last season we had 10 newcomers, and a large part of our starting lineup was composed of freshmen and sophomores," Salmon said. "Now that we have game experience and some knowledge behind the ball, our expectations have been raised quite a bit. I know we're still young, but we can use that to our advantage. We have fresher legs than the old guys."

From the outset, the Retrievers will have to contend with the loss of one of their captains, goalkeeper Robin Babaris, a two-time all-conference honoree who will sit out the season with a knee injury suffered in the spring.

"When you lose a player like Robin, a leader and the heart and soul of your team, that's a huge loss," Salmon said. "Going into preseason, I think the biggest question mark we have is goalkeeping. But through recruiting and diligence, we feel like we've got three potentially top keepers."

They include freshman Catie Bukowski, a transfer from South Carolina who spent the spring season with the Retrievers and stepped up when Babaris went down; true freshman Christine Bacinski; and sophomore Carly Agro, a transfer from Florida International.

The Retriever defense will have a new look this year, as senior co-captain Jessica Golibart, a longtime mainstay in the back line, will slide into the midfield in 2005. Sophomore Alexis Rogowsky will replace Golibart at the outside back position.

"We feel that Alexis has a tremendous mentality," Salmon said. "She's a great one-on-one defender who loves to get forward. We're excited about her sliding into the back."

The back line will again be anchored by junior co-captain Mary Hearin, with junior Megan Mullins and sophomore Casey Smith picking up where they left off last season. A healthy Betsy Day could see time on defense or at midfield.

"Betsy has intangibles that can't be measured," Salmon said. "I think what Betsy brings to the table is leadership. She's probably one of the most competitive individuals I've ever coached, and that's saying a lot because I've coached some pretty competitive people."

Other players who will battle for playing time in the back include sophomore Laura Cugle and junior Nicole Krause, a transfer from Salisbury.

"We're excited about our backline," Salmon said. "We feel like it's really solid. I know that the chemistry between the four who will play in the back will be amazing."

Golibart and sophomore Amy Morrison will head up the midfield for the Retrievers. "Amy Morrison is a phenomenal player, but she needed help," Salmon said. "We needed a defensive center midfielder who could help her, allow her to be creative and dangerous, and we're doing that by sliding Jessica Golibart up there."

Golibart's leadership and team-first mentality earn her rave reviews from her coach, who is confident the senior can fill the center position.

"Players like Jessica Golibart go unnoticed but are often times the most important element of the puzzle," Salmon said. "They are your team's centerpiece."

Other players who will contend for starting spots include juniors Megan Jupiter and Andrea Perkinson and freshman Kali Schwartz. Sophomore Morgan Sacchetti and freshman Cara Palmer will also compete for playing time. Jupiter's strengths lie in the technical aspect of the game, while Palmer provides speed and craftiness.

Salmon noted the speedy Perkinson, who started only two games in 2004, is someone who emerged as a top midfielder in the spring. "She really worked on her defending in the offseason," Salmon said. "She wants a starting job, and coming out of spring, she won it. With Andi, you get a player that's incredibly hard to defend because she's always running at you and she's got so much speed. Andi has a great mentality, she loves to compete and she's what you need in that outside midfield position."

UMBC's offense will be led by juniors Amanda DiCarlo and Kelly Fiorani and sophomore Jessica Young.

"Amanda DiCarlo, by far, has the best first touch of any player I've ever coached," Salmon said. "And then you've got the intangibles of Kelly Fiorani. To me, there's nothing more potent than a player who will never give up, and that's 'Fear.' Her nickname says it all. She's 'Fear' - she's fearless. She'll do anything you ask. Fear is a player who can absolutely change a game, and she does it on a regular basis. She's extremely hard to defend because she's so strong, so powerful and so fast."

As a freshman last season, Young led the Retrievers in every offensive statistic, including goals (6) and assists (4). She was named to the America East All-Rookie team and ranked in the top 10 in the conference in several categories.

"Little J is the fastest player in the conference by far. She has matured so much," Salmon said. "Her potential is limitless. She's worked so hard in the off-season to not just rely on her speed, but to develop her technical ability. She is really going to blossom this season."

In addition, Salmon is very excited about returning senior Missy Moore to the offensive mix. Moore, the 2001 Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year, is the Retrievers' active career scoring leader and ranks third all-time with 27 goals, despite sitting out last season.

"She's so willing to contribute. She doesn't care what her role is, she just wants to play," Salmon said. "You only get that insight when you have to take off a year. What I'm most excited about is the maturity that Missy brings, not to mention her ability to score at any given time in any given game. When you add Missy's talent to the speed of Jessica Young and the power of Kelly Fiorani, you're looking at one of the most potent forward lineups in the conference."

Salmon feels confident that the team has addressed its needs at every position and the Retrievers can put together a special season. "We are a much more mature team, and I think our knowledge of the game has grown vastly over the last year," Salmon said. "The winning mentality is definitely there, the competitiveness to be the best is there. I believe we possess all of the right ingredients for a very good year."

Salmon also noted the team's chemistry and the leadership provided by her captains, Babaris, Day, Golibart and Hearin.

"Few teams have this much chemistry," Salmon said. "It's a pleasure to coach them. They truly make me enjoy my job every single day. There's not a day when we are not all laughing and learning. The players respect each other. I think we're in a good position to surprise a lot of people."

The Retrievers begin the season Aug. 26 when they host Liberty at the UMBC Stadium. They play host to New Hampshire Sept. 25 for their first America East contest.