Tribe sets its sights on deep NCAA tournament run
After a second-round departure from last season’s NCAA tournament, the Tribe has regrouped and refocused to make this year a more successful campaign.
The College returns nine of 11 starters, two All-Americans and one of the toughest defenses in the CAA.
With the prolific scoring touch of senior striker Claire Zimmeck and the shot-stopping mentality of senior goalkeeper Meghan Walker, the Tribe is ready for a strong season.
“Our team is the closest it has ever been since I started here as a freshman,” Zimmeck said in an e-mail. “Our team goal is to make it to the quarterfinals of the NCAAs. This is a high goal, but I definitely think we have the potential to accomplish it.”
Last season, Zimmeck led the CAA with 17 goals, spearheading a Tribe attack that outscored its opponents 36 to 11.
In addition to Zimmeck’s scoring, senior midfielder Dani Collins returns from an injury-marred 2007. Collins, a stellar distributor and aggressive player, will look to add to her four goals and two assists from last season.
Collins anchors a midfield that lost two players from last year’s 15-5-2 team. Head coach John Daly expects sophomore midfielder Brittany Lane to fill the void left by the graduates and be a leading contributor in 2008. Lane appeared in 16 matches for the College last season and recorded one start. Daly pointed to an impressive spring and summer for Lane as an indicator of what the fall will bring.
On defense the Tribe returns all four starters who combined to allow just 11 goals in 22 games — tops in the CAA in 2007.
“We have an experienced back line returning from last year,” Daly said. “They were pretty stingy last year. A good defense is always where you start your building.”
Sophomore Kaitlin O’Connor and senior Abby Lauer combine to form the Tribe’s dynamic duo on defense. O’Connor’s stay-at-home mentality combined with Lauer’s aggressive forward play on the outside allow the back line to both shut down opponents and create scoring opportunities all at once.
With Walker in the goal, the Tribe returns a player who allowed only an average of half a goal per game last season. Her solid play and reliable hands also led to 10 shutouts. Daly said that Walker makes all the saves that are necessary of her and avoids the flashy style that has encapsulated some of her peers.
The College will also count on the offensive presence of senior Kelly Jenkins who will team with Zimmeck up front and utilize her excellent field vision to set up her All-American teammate.
“If we can keep goals conceded to a minimum, we have players who can score,” Daly said. “If we have a combination of good defending and opportunistic scoring, we will have an opportunity to achieve our goals.”
Solid veteran play and timely support from younger substitutes could put the Tribe in position to capture the CAA title and continue playing into late November.
Coach Daly on the 2008 season:
“One of our goals is to win the CAA both the regular season and the tournament. Also we would like to go as far a possible, even to the College Cup, which would be the final four. Those would be our ultimate goals. All the individual goals need to be in tune with the team goals. I would love to see Claire Zimmeck score 20 goals but if that means that three other players do not get goals that could have won games [it defeats the purpose]… I think we have the potential to [play with the best in the NCAA]. But potential and team sheets don’t win games. We will have a pretty good idea after Saturday. If we acquit ourselves against Penn State it will be a good start and a good confidence booster.”
College faces tough schedule
The Tribe’s difficult schedule includes two early matches against soccer powerhouses no. 6 University of Virginia and no. 9 Penn State University. The College will step outside the conference nine times, including matches with ACC opponents University of Maryland and North Carolina State University, before opening the CAA portion of its schedule in a home tilt against University of North Carolina—Wilmington Sept. 26. Head Coach John Daly feels that these matches will indicate whether his team is ready for a competitive conference slate or has room for improvement. Daly also stressed the importance of early victories in earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
Within the CAA, a vital four-game home stand begins in early October against Northeastern University, followed by games with Hofstra University and Virginia Commonwealth University. The College’s match with VCU will be nationally televised on the Fox Soccer Channel.
“These will be our toughest conference games,” senior forward Claire Zimmeck said. “I think that we play better when we are at home and definitely have a good chance at winning them all if we go out hard and play our best.”
The Tribe wraps up the homestand with James Madison University — the team picked second to the College in the CAA preseason poll. In 2007 the Tribe went 2-1-1 against the foursome, dropping a road match with JMU and tying Northeastern in Boston. Stringing together victories during this stretch could give the College a big momentum boost heading into postseason play.
By the numbers
26 consecutive winning seasons
9 returning starters
11 goals allowed in 2007
293 career wins for head coach John Daly
Zero CAA home losses since 2004
15 NCAA tournament appearances in last 16 seasons
Coach Daly’s scouting reports:
Dani Collins, Sr., Midfielder
“Dani is a dominant physical force in the middle of the field. She helps break up opponents’ attacks and set up ours and will contribute some important goals.”
Kaitlin O’Connor, Soph., Defense
“Kaitlin is an outstanding defender. She rarely gets beaten and covers for her teammates.”
Meghan Walker, Sr., Goalkeeper
“Meghan’s main strength is her positional play. She is not a flashy goalkeeper. She moves her feet well and is very solid and reliable.”
Claire Zimmeck, Sr., Forward
“Claire is a very courageous player with the ability to score in a number of ways; with trickery, pace and opportunism.”
Tribe’s first test comes tomorrow
The College faces no. 9 Penn State University tomorrow night at 7 p.m. The Nittany Lions are coached by Erica Walsh ’97. The two teams have met just once. The result was a 1-0 win for the College.
Tribe vs. No. 9 Penn State — Sat. 7 p.m. Albert-Daly Field