After being picked seventh in the 2016 America East Preseason Coaches' Poll, UMBC head coach Leslie Wray doesn't seem to have hard feelings.
"Some of the girls on the team were here when we won a championship and for those players, they know what it's like to come out of the blue, be the underdogs and come out on top. But they also know what it was like the following year when they had a target on their back, and the difference of the feeling," Wray said. "I feel like right now, UMBC wants to feel like the underdog. It really is a mentality thing, we want to grind through it and want to push through every single time. You want to pick us seventh? That's fine, you'll just have to be surprised. I think we just like to shock people."
Entering her fifth year at the helm of the Retriever program, Wray hopes that the team will continue to work together to build upon the 2015 season, which saw UMBC go 5-11-3 overall and 3-3-2 in America East play. The Retrievers were able to sneak into the conference tournament as the sixth-seed, but suffered an opening round loss at No. 3 Vermont, 1-0.
"We had a disappointing year last season and my expectation is that we continue to grow together and learn from each other. We'll have a young squad, but when they came into preseason fit, that was the best start we've seen in a long time for this program," Wray said. "We know to take it one game at a time and be patient. But, we're competitive."
While the team is young, 14 letterwinners return from a season ago including captains Alexa Quaranta and Gabby Boehmer. By having a mix of strong upperclassmen and fresh faces, the team is heading into the season with a positive attitude.
"Right off the bat, they've been fantastic. Our captains [Boehmer and Quaranta] both have done a good job of making sure that they've taken care of themselves; making sure they're fit and healthy, and then after that they've brought along the rest of the team and the rest of the returners to say 'hey, we're setting the standard and we're not going to have a disappointing year.' So I think that culture of the program has changed in the right direction and they are the leaders of that so they've helped a great deal."
Wray realizes that there are some positions to fill in throughout the year and doesn't regard that as a problem.
"Right off the bat, starting in all positions, we have more depth than we've ever had," Wray said. "We're excited about that because that always allows us to be competitive within ourselves and then back on the field."
This season sees the return of red-shirt senior Alexa Quaranta and senior Preslie Quaranta, who played a portion of the season before both suffering injuries. Senior Dee Morris will also "see quality time" according to Wray, after tallying three goals and one assist last season. Junior Virginia Moyer will play in the middle of the field and be a versatile player for the Retrievers.
"We're getting a little fight from Virginia," Wray said. "She can really play any of the positions up top so she's going to add depth to the front line."
The front line will be backed by a duo of freshmen that Wray thinks will add depth and drive to the starting lineup.
"We're going to have a lot of responsibility on two freshmen," Wray said. "Jaime Shiflett, who will start in the middle of the field and is a fantastic finisher and a strong athlete, and Jessica Hopkins, who will play on the left side and bring creativity. She has good feet and great service."
Another position that sees a strong contingent of players return is the midfield, which Wray sees as a quality position on the field.
"We're really excited about our midfield. We think we have some quality players who will be able to take over the center of the field and do well for us," Wray said. "We have such great depth at midfield, as well as bringing in some newcomers to give our returners a break in there."
Coming off her breakout season in 2015, junior Gabby Boehmer returns to lead the midfield; last season, Boehmer led UMBC with six goals and two assists. Other returners for the Retrievers are junior Hannah Goff and sophomores Wren Aye and Jenna Denis, a duo that hope to build off strong initial seasons.
"Wren did well for us toward the end of last season and was a steady player, so we're expecting her to do more of the same," Wray said. "Jenna was able to win everything in the air for us last fall and we're expecting that to come out again this year and for her to settle in her position. We'd like her to be more deliberate in her attack. She scored one of her first goals in her first game last year, so we want her to be a threat in the air and on the ground."
"Nikki is going to be in that attacking center midfield position. She just moves very well and has great vision and when she has the time and space, she can hit the ball pretty well," Wray said. "Rayven will get some time as a defensive center midfielder. She's such a strong, solid player who can hit the ball over 40 yards so we're excited to see her play. Angela is a transfer from Harford Community College and we expect her to dominate the air for us in the midfield. She has great vision to put our forwards through at speed."
Wray believes that the backline is where the team might have some holes to fill, but knows there are strong candidates on the team so far.
Returning to the defense is "the leader" according Wray, in 2015 All-Rookie honoree Skyler Mackey. Even though she is coming back from an injury, Wray knows that Mackey is "such a fighter" and will get quality time throughout the season.
Also joining Mackey in the backfield is junior Nicole Delabrer, who had a "solid spring" according to Wray, while also recovering from an injury. Sophomore Katie Berkowitz will also look to get healthy for the season at centerback. Junior Madison Koenig will also look to get quality time as a versatile and "determined defender" for the team.
Junior Shannon Phillips, who joined the Retrievers last season, also returns as a mainstay in the UMBC backline, according to Wray.
"Shannon has done a great job for us and will find time as a centerback," Wray said. "She's great in the air and solid on our corner kicks. She has the ability to get forward and have great service off her, but she's a great individual defender."
The defense presents the largest contingency of freshmen, welcoming four newcomers to the position. Courtney Culp, Emily Horn, Sydney Donovan, and Marissa O'Conner all will be vying for time in the backfield, with Donovan and Horn impressing during the preseason.
"Sydney is a solid, compliant player who will work and work for you and is ready to get on with the game," Wray said. "Emily will have some time and will have to play into the position. We've transferred her from the outside midfielder she played at the club level to an outside back and we really think she has a lot of promise."
Jen Nance was a solid two-year starter in goal for UMBC. Nance, who was an America East All-Conference Second Team honoree in 2014, left the program sixth in career saves (191) and career shutouts (13), and registered a single-season record of nine shutouts in 2014.
This year, the reigns of the goal are passed to sophomore Leah Roth, who will be seeing her first action for the black and gold in the opener.
"We really feel like Leah can take control of that backline," Wray said. "This is going to be her first start for us, but in terms of players who have improved, we really feel like this could be her breakout year."
Backing up Roth in the goal will be classmate Mikayla Krinetz, who saw action in 2015, making four saves in her three appearances.
America East Outlook
The Retrievers open the season at home on Friday, Aug. 19 with the Holiday Inn BWI Battle of Baltimore/DC Classic against American at 7 p.m. at Retriever Soccer Park. The Dawgs will start their 14th season in the America East Conference with a road contest at New Hampshire on Sunday, Sept. 25 at 1 p.m.
UMBC was picked to finish seventh in the America East 2016 preseason coaches' poll after going 5-11-3, 3-3-2 in AEC matches and falling 1-0 to Vermont in the opening round of the conference tournament last season. Reigning AEC tournament champion Albany took the top spot in the poll with 61 points and six first-place votes, followed closely behind by Hartford (58) who received three first-place tallies. Maine (44), New Hampshire (42), Vermont (39) and Stony Brook (33) rounded out the top six finishers. UMBC received 20 points and were followed by UMass Lowell (14) and Binghamton (13).
-Head coach Leslie Wray enters her fifth season at the helm of the Retriever program. In the 2016 America East Preseason Coaches' Poll, UMBC was picked to finish seventh, picking up 20 votes.
-Last season, the Retrievers saw the postseason for a program-record third-straight season as the sixth-seed, but suffered an 1-0 opening round loss to No.3 Vermont.
-UMBC returns seven starters and 14 letterwinners from a season ago, including junior Gabby Boehmer, who led the team in points last season, Alexa Quaranta, and America East All-Rookie honoree Skyler Mackey.
-A key departure for the Retrievers is starting goalkeeper Jen Nance. An All-Conference Second Team selection in 2014, Nance leaves the program sixth in career saves (191) and career shutouts (13), and registered a single-season record of nine shutouts in 2014.
-UMBC will travel to Loyola (Md.) on Sunday, Aug. 21 before returning home on Thursday, Aug. 25 when its hosts Liberty at Retriever Soccer Park at 5:30 p.m.
SCOUTING THE EAGLES
-American begins its fourth season under the reign of Anabel Hering, after finishing the 2015 campaign 5-11-3 and 2-4-3 in Patriot League play. The Eagles were picked ninth in the 2016 Patriot League Preseason Coaches' Poll.
-The Eagles return nine starters, including seniors Allie Day and Marley Jennings, who was tabbed an All-Patriot League Third Team selection in 2015. Jennings tied for second in the Patriot League in assists (4).
-Departures from the team include 2015's leading scorer Kelly Donovan and starting goalkeepers Charlene Belanger and Courtney Bembenek. Belanger leaves the Eagles ranked second in career shutouts (12) and third in career goals against average (1.34).
-The Eagles led the Patriot League last season with 14 Academic Honor Roll selections, including three student-athletes with 4.0 GPAs in the fall semester.
-American continues a four-game road trip when it travels to Campbell on Sunday, Aug. 21.