As the Washington and Lee women's soccer team prepares for
the 2010 season, 10th year Head Coach Neil Cunningham has reason to
be excited about his team's prospects.
After finishing the 2009 campaign with a 17-2-3 overall record, capturing the program's third conference championship all-time and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Division III women's soccer tournament, the 2010 Generals will have a strong base to build on this season.
"It is indeed exciting to be returning so many players that put together an awesome season in 2009," stated Cunningham. "However, this year will be an extremely challenging one for everyone connected to the program. When you start the season as defending champions everything is different. We will become the team to beat in the ODAC and must rise to the occasion."
The Generals will return 18 of 23 players from last season's roster, including two All-America, three all-region and all-state and five all-conference honorees. Add to the list Cunningham's honor as the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) and National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Atlantic South Region Coach of the Year, and a preseason No. 22 ranking in the NSCAA preseason poll and it's easy to see why the excitement is buzzing around the team.
"Everyone feels good about our prospects this season," remarked Cunningham. "The players certainly have a taste for success and know what it takes to lift the crown. We will hopefully be able to draw on last year's experiences as we move through the season."
Leading the charge for Cunningham will be a defensive unit that returns most of its starters from last season. The defense led the conference in shutouts with 16, a mark that also ranked W&L sixth in the nation. The Generals also tied for the league lead in fewest goals allowed (11) while finishing second in goals-against average (0.50).
Starting in goal will be junior Emily Leary, who will also serve as a team captain. Leary finished last season second in the conference and 20th in the nation with a 0.54 goals-against average in 22 appearances. She also led the conference with 13 shutouts.
Backing her numbers, Leary was rewarded with a plethora of post-season honors, including being named the ODAC Player of the Year and a Second Team All-American. She was also named First Team All-State by the Virginia Sports Information Directors (VaSID), First Team All-ODAC and First Team NSCAA All-South Atlantic Region.
"Leary had a quite remarkable year, both personally and as a vital member of the team," said Cunningham. "I know she has set targets for herself and the team and I feel comfortable she will excel once more and keep things together at the back. At the same time I know she will not be resting on her laurels as [senior goalkeeper] Taylor Joosten keeps her on her toes every day."
Supporting Leary in the defensive third will be fellow All-America honoree Kat Lawson. As a sophomore last season, Lawson became the first-ever W&L women's soccer player to be named a First Team All-American, while also earning First Team All-ODAC and NSCAA All-South Atlantic Region laurels, and Second Team VaSID All-State recognition.
"Lawson is an exceptional defender who reads the game well and makes smart decisions on the field," stated Cunningham. "Her achievements were well deserved last year and we are expecting more of the same this campaign as she anchors the defense."
Joining Lawson will be fellow juniors Page Minton, Heather Deisher and Kelsy McCraw, along with sophomore Alex Todd.
"One of the major strengths of our program over the last decade has been our ability to defend as a unit, remarked Cunningham. "While some players have done well individually, it is the stellar and dependable play of Minton and Deisher that is a huge reason for our success keeping teams at bay and allowing us to win games."
The midfield will lose leadership and offensive punch with the graduation of Maggie Sutherland and Roz Klann, but in their place return five of the Generals' top 10 scorers from last season. Sophomore Ainsley Daigle moves from forward, where she was the Generals' second-leading scorer last season with 23 points (9g, 5a).
"Daigle played most of last year out of position to fill a need for the team and did an unbelievable job as a makeshift forward," said Cunningham. "Returning to her more comfortable central midfield position this season will allow her to run the midfield as an attacking force and she will be a handful for any opposition."
While Daigle will bring an offensive punch, the midfield will look for leadership from senior captain Caroline Lamberti. She will be joined by junior Dory Blackey and 2009 top scorers seniors Taylor Garrett (3g, 1a) and Laura Yungmeyer (2g, 3a) and sophomores Katie Howard (6g, 1a) and Hannah Sackfield (2g, 5a).
"It's a very solid and industrious midfield with Lamberti leading the way," stated Cunningham. "We are expecting banner years from [seniors] Yungmeyer and Garrett and I think Sackfield has the potential to tear defenses apart. "
On the offensive side, leading scorer and First Team All-ODAC and NSCAA All-Atlantic South Region honoree Allie Espina will look to again lead the Generals' offense after registering 26 points (12g, 2a) last year as a sophomore.
"Espina is a match-winner on her day," remarked Cunningham. "She can turn defenders inside out and her speed is a great asset. I truly believe that if she can reach greater consistency, she can be a major player in the league and on the national stage."
Espina will be joined by fellow juniors and 2009 top scorers Anne Masich (6g, 2a) and Kat Barnes (2g, 3a), in addition to sophomore Bess Ruff. Barnes will look to return this season after missing most of her sophomore campaign due to injury.
"What a delight it is to see Kat back in action and hungry to make up for lost time," stated Cunningham. "She is a proven scorer and we are so thrilled to see her back and hopefully banging in the goals."
Joining the returnees will be a pair of first-year players, Alexis Blight and Jasmine Soo, who Cunningham expects to immediately challenge for playing time.
"I expect both first-years to seriously challenge our veterans for significant playing time," said Cunningham. "Blight is a hard-working central midfield player who will make a big difference this year, while Soo is a forward that also works exceptionally hard and we are hoping she can find the net on many occasions."
The Generals will open their season at Watt Field on Saturday, September 11 at noon against Sewanee as a part of the Washington and Lee Invitational.