Soccer preview: teams rely on off-season recruitment, veteran presence

COURTESY IMAGE // TRIBE ATHLETICS Women’s soccer has started 2023 with a solid 2-0-2 start, and looks to continue to put up strong performances heading into conference play later next week.

With a mix of strong off-season recruiting, team depth and experience, William and Mary fans have much to look forward to for the 2023 men’s and women’s soccer seasons. 

Women’s soccer head coach Julie Shackford said she is impressed by the depth of her squad this year. The Tribe retained all 15 players who earned a point in the 2022 season, including the reigning Coastal Athletic Association Freshman of the Year, sophomore forward Ivey Crain. Last year she led the team with 17 goals, and Crain has already bagged four more in the team’s first five games of the 2023 season.

Fifth-year midfielder Jillian O’Toole and senior defenders Ginny Delacruz and Nicole Sellers were mainstays of the squad last season and are expected to play a prominent role for the Tribe again. Fifth-year goalkeeper Zoe Doughty will likely battle junior goalkeeper Morgan Wood for the starting spot once again, though Doughty has historically edged out her competition for the coach’s nod. Also rejoining the squad is junior midfielder Abby Mills, who was unable to play the last two seasons due to an ankle injury. 

Though there are many veterans leading the roster, Shackford added an array of new faces to the team this offseason. Freshman defender Molly Widderich is proving to be more versatile than meets the eye, playing up as a forward on top of her listed center back role. Widderich scored 112 goals in her high school career, with 50 coming in her senior year.

Junior forward Leah Iglesias joins the Tribe as a transfer from reigning CAA champions Hofstra. The New York native appeared in 20 games over the last two seasons with the Pride, including ten combined starts. Iglesias hit the ground running with the Tribe, scoring the game-winner against Richmond last Thursday. 

The women’s team posted a 7-8-4 (3-3-3 CAA) record in 2022, booking a spot to the CAA tournament as the no. 7 seed. They bowed out in the first round following a 2-1 defeat to future semifinalists Drexel. 

While women’s soccer retained a large percentage of its squad, the men’s program lost star players Nathan Messer ‘23, Diba Nwegbo ‘23 and Alexander Levengood ‘23 over the summer. They were responsible for a combined 57% of William and Mary’s goals last season, leaving head coach Chris Norris with a tough replacement job. 

Luckily, the Tribe can count on a number of incoming players to help boost its attack, most notably graduate student forward Merlin Luke-Miny. The New Zealand native played for hometown club Wellington Olympic Association Football Club earlier this year, helping lead the Central League outfit to a first place finish in the regular season with four goals and an assist. Additionally, freshman midfielder Aidan Morrison’s arrival to Williamsburg has been highly anticipated, having played with United Soccer League, League One’s Charlotte Independence prior to his arrival to William and Mary. He backed up his preseason hype with an efficient performance in last Thursday’s season opener against Binghamton, tallying three shots on target out of four total attempts. 

While many of his attackers might be new, Norris’ midfield contains several key returning players, including graduate student midfielder Alfredo Bozalongo and senior midfielders Augie Cooper and Daniel Salom. The players shined in their season debut against Binghamton, with Cooper and Bozalongo scoring in the 2-1 victory.

Senior defender Cole Knapp headlines an experienced backline, which includes transfer graduate student goalkeeper Cole McNally. The former Wake Forest goalie spent four years in Winston-Salem and earned his first Tribe start on Thursday. 

Last year, the men’s team ended the regular season with a 5-7-5 (3-3-3 CAA) record, which was enough to qualify for the CAA tournament as the no. 6 seed. However, the Tribe fell to eventual champions Hofstra in the first round.

Tribe fans are optimistic for both teams this season, with the women’s squad boasting an undefeated start to the season through four games for the first time since 2017, including three straight shutouts. The team opened their first two games in Philadelphia against Temple and St. Joseph’s Universities, earning a 4-0 and 0-0 result respectively. The Tribe then defeated Richmond 1-0 away before drawing Virginia Commonwealth University at home, 1-1. During this stretch, sophomore defender Nora Green-Orset was named CAA Defender of the Week. Having been a reserve player last season, she has started all four games this season as both a center back and holding midfielder. Women’s soccer will feature at home on Thursday, Aug. 31 against George Mason at 1 p.m. Fans can attend the game at Martin Family Stadium or watch the live stream on FloSports.

Men’s soccer also opened the regular season with a victory, earning a 2-1 comeback victory against Binghamton at Martin Family Stadium on Thursday. Freshman midfielder Gabe Ruitenberg assisted Cooper’s goal from a corner kick, despite only playing 13 minutes. The team will play next on Monday, Aug. 28 away at Coastal Carolina. Tribe fans can watch the match on ESPN+, with kickoff slated for 4 p.m.


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