How can a team possibly respond to an historic season that saw not just its first conference regular-season title, not just its first league tournament title, but also its first trip to the NCAA Tournament?
It does it again.
That is what is on the agenda of third-year UMBC Women's Soccer Head Coach Leslie Wray. Since arriving on the Retrievers' campus, Wray has vowed that it was the team's mission to change the culture of the program, and posting the third biggest turnaround among Division I women's soccer teams and the largest in America East history last season was just the start.
"Last season was an incredible achievement, but we have moved on and have been focusing on the upcoming year since the spring," said Wray. "The team we have put together this fall is more competitive from top to bottom and will have more of an attacking threat than in year's past."
Two years removed from a zero-win season, the Retrievers posted their highest win total in program history (13) and this season, they return the core of their offensive weapons as they look to defend their 2013 title, including America East Co-Midfielder of the Year in senior Jessy Brown and 2013 AE Fans' Choice Player of the Year Alexa Quaranta. The black and gold were picked by the league's coaches to repeat as America East champions in 2014 with Wray welcoming back four All-Conference selections, nine starters and 15 letterwinners.
The Retrievers' offense received goals from 10 different players last season, nine of which are on the 2014 roster, and combined for 30 scores, the program's highest goal total since the 2005 campaign (32). Despite a position change in the early part of the season, junior Alexa Quaranta led the way. Quaranta proved to be active up front, finishing third in the conference in goals scored (eight) and ranking third on UMBC's single-season shot list (61). The Retrievers will once again look to the All-Conference selection to be a threat, along with sophomore Amanda Dailey, who finished her rookie campaign strong with four of her eight points coming during the final three games of the regular season.
Sophomore Caitlyn Whitford will again split time between the forward and back positions after suffering injuries in her initial season with the Retrievers. Junior Sunita Mengers will look to battle for time after seeing limited action in 2013, while red-shirt freshman Destinee Morris will look to join the mix after suffering a season-ending injury after just three games last year.
UMBC again welcomes a variety of talent at the forward position in 2014, most of whom saw great success with their high school programs. Rachel Lyon led Gettysburg Area High School in points all four years and concluded her career with 57 goals and 17 assists, while Virginia Moyer led Elizabethtown Area High School in scoring during her junior campaign and guided the Bears to a district title in 2013. Lisa Nanov also saw great success in her high school career at Cumberland Valley, earning back-to-back Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association State Championships, and has shown great speed during the Retrievers' preseason contests. Kristin Marsh rounds out the forwards, coming from South River High School, the 2012 Maryland 4A State champions.
"I am excited to watch our attack grow throughout the season," explained Wray. "Our freshmen class adds speed up top, but we will rely on our veteran forwards to push our opponent's back line."
The Retrievers' midfield helped out on both sides of the ball last season, accounting for 11 of the team's 30 goals and helping the defense to its lowest number of goals allowed (22) since the 2005 campaign (21). Piloting the charge are seniors Jessy Brown, Lilly Rydon and Paige Preston. Brown, a co-captain this season, accumulated a number of postseason awards for her contributions both on and off the field, including the program's first-ever All-Region recognition. The Plantation, Fla., native tallied six of the team's 13 game-winners and finished the year with a total of 17 points. Rydon contributed eight points a season ago, despite battling injuries throughout her junior campaign, while Preston was named the team's Unsung Hero at last season's end.
Meg Kowalski wasted little time getting into the mix after missing the first two games of the season in her rookie year. Kowalski was named an America East All-Conference Second Team honoree, in addition to earning All-Rookie Team recognition after tabbing 20 shots and registering five points. The Retrievers also welcome the return of red-shirt sophomore Preslie Quaranta, who missed all of the 2013 slate due to injury. Quaranta tied for first on the team in goals (three) in her rookie season in 2012.
"We have strong veteran midfielders, who have a lot of experience on the field," Wray said. "We will rely on their leadership and composure to push us through some of the tough games."
Joining the midfield are newcomers Marcella Fegler, Gabby Boehmer and Hannah Goff. Fegler helped Linganore High School to a regional finals appearance for the first time in 10 years and was a First Team All-County and All-Area selection. Boehmer was a three-time All-County honoree for Cedar Crest High School and concluded her career as the program's all-time leading goal scorer (62), while Goff comes in from Mercy High School after earning Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland "A" Conference Soccer All-Star recognition as a senior.
The Retrievers will be forced to look to seniors Morgan Taylor and Melissa Hummel to take over the leadership role that three-time team captain Lauren Kadet provided. Wray isn't worried with the wealth of experience that the backline is equipped with in Taylor, Hummel, Amira Walcott and Nikki Boretti. The quartet has seen significant time together over the past two seasons and limited the team's goals against average to 1.00 last season, which ranked third in the league.
Taylor will serve as one of the team's two captains this season after starting all 21 games last season and registering four points. Hummel has started every game since putting on a Retrievers' uniform in 2011. The Downingtown, Pa., native led the league in assists (four) during conference play and finished the year with a team-best six helpers. Walcott and Boretti have combined for just three missed starts over their first two seasons on campus. Walcott returns after posting eight points and earning America East All-Conference Second Team recognition, while Boretti split time between the midfield and backline to total two goals and two assists.
Also vying for time on the backline will be junior Bria Bass and newcomers Nicole Delabrer, Anna Borkowski and Madison Koenig. Delabrer guided Eleanor Roosevelt High School to a state semifinal appearance in her final season with the Raiders, leading the squad with 25 goals and 10 helpers. Koenig helped South River High School to a Class 4A East Region title in 2012, while Borkowski was recognized as a Notable Player to Watch by The Baltimore Sun during her time at Mercy High School.
"We have added some much needed depth to our defensive backs," admitted Wray. "We will need everyone fit and healthy to continue with our strong defensive play."
UMBC enters the season with a new starting goalkeeper for the first time in three seasons following the graduation of the program's all-time saves leader in two-time All-Conference selection Lauren Kadet. Junior Jen Nance received the starting nod in both of the Retrievers' preseason contests and is the team's only goalkeeper with collegiate experience, having started in one of her two appearances during her rookie campaign. Nance's one start did show great potential, producing an outstanding nine-save effort against Boston University. Sophomore Annette Cappellino, a former All-Monroe County Public School Athletic Conference First Team honoree at Penfield High School, serves as Nance's backup.
"We are happy with the intensity that Jen and Annette have had in preseason," said Wray. "We expect Jen will use her quickness and athleticism to become a strong keeper in the conference."
The Retrievers open their 2014 campaign on Friday, Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. when they host Navy at the Retriever Soccer Park. Friday also marks Dads & Daughters Night at the Park, where dads and daughters are welcomed to create memories, enjoy rare behind the scenes experiences, and share the importance of exercise, good sportsmanship, and competitive team play. Discounted ticket packages can be purchased for $8, which includes two tickets to the game, two iPhone 5 'UMBC cases,' two slices of pizza and two Aquafina bottled waters.
"We anticipate a strong team this year, but know we will be faced with new challenges of having teams more prepared for us," explained Wray. "We look forward to those challenges and know we will have to play with determination and grit to be successful. Our strength of will, should be tested at every competition and we look forward to it."