A product of its success, the College of William and Mary enters the 2009 season with the welcome burden of high expectations.
The pillars of last year’s squad, defender Dani Collins ’09, midfielder Abby Lauer ‘09 and striker Claire Zimmeck ’09, have graduated. This season marks a new chapter for the Tribe soccer program, one that will be measured against a lofty precedent.
“Well, obviously, no matter how talented your freshmen are, it’s tough to replace that talented senior class,” Head Coach John Daly said over the phone. “I feel three or four freshmen can contribute consistently, but they are not going to fill the shoes of Zimmeck, Lauer and Collins.”
Fortunately, they won’t be asked to. Instead of basing their offensive attack around a single prolific goal scorer, Daly is hoping to spread the wealth among his returning offensive players.
“We need to get our mid[field] players more involved in our attack,” Daly said. “Zimmeck as a freshman scored 11 goals, then 14 as a sophomore, 17 as a junior and 15 last year. I don’t know if any front players can do that this year. What we hope for is that it’s more spread around this year, with more players scoring eight or nine goals each.”
Chiefly counted on to provide that production will be senior forward Kellie Jenkins and sophomore forward Stephanie Gerow. Gerow had three goals and four assists last season, while Jenkins netted six goals, second on the team behind Zimmick.
“We need to get used to playing with each other,” Jenkins said. “We have nine new freshman, and they are not used to our style of play. We are primarily a possession-oriented team, so it’ll be just working them into our game plan.”
Daly identified four freshmen who have stood out this preseason: forward Erin Liberatore, midfielder Mallory Schaffer, midfielder Cortlyn Bristol and midfielder Kiersten Harpe. The two to watch may be Schaffer, who graded out as one of the top performers in the Tribe’s opening loss versus UNC-Charlotte, and Liberatore, who Daly says will soon be among the goal scorers once she gets adjusted to the College game.
Defense is where the Tribe is most experienced, yet the unit also faces some glaring question marks. Junior backs Kaitlin O’Connor, an All-CAA third-team selection last season, and Kate Winsper return on the inside as two-year starters to be joined by senior Juli Valls at the right back and sophomore Diana Wiegel at the left back.
Valls, a co-captain with O’Connor, has only three starts to her name entering the season, and Wiegel, a CAA All-Rookie team selection as a striker last season, continues to battle the muscle cramping that has plagued her young career at the College.
“We’re going to be looking at the back four. They’ve got to settle in together,” Daly said. “I don’t like changing the back four in the middle of a game, but Diana came out [Sunday versus UNC-Charlotte] because of cramping, which has held her back since she has been here.”
The goalkeeper position may be one of the more interesting storylines for the Tribe this season, as junior Grace Barnard fights to keep the starting job away from redshirt freshman Katherine Yount and senior Jackie Bowman.
“I think Grace has some work to do. She has to fine tune her game and get into top physical shape,” Daly said. “She didn’t come back this summer in [top] physical shape, and she knows that … Grace knows she’s going to have to be close to perfect to keep Katherine out.”
The Tribe will be tested early against a tough non-conference schedule including road matches against Brigham Young University and the University of Utah as well as a home matchup against the University of California-Santa Barbara.
“We always play a tough schedule non-conference early on, teams that if they were in our conference would finish either one or two like Charlotte, BYU and Santa Barbara,” Daly said. “We really need to settle in quickly.”
Despite the challenging schedule and the loss of talent, the standards for the College’s soccer program remain high.
“It’s difficult to say what I expect,” Daly said. “What I hope for is continued development as a team and as individuals. I hope we continue to develop and improve. and when conference time comes around, I hope we can be strong enough in conference to win the conference tournament or to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.”