LEXINGTON, Va. -- As the Washington and Lee women's soccer team heads into the 2012 season knowing it must face the challenge of replacing eight players lost to graduation, it will rely on the leadership abilities and proven talent of the returners as the Generals vie for a chance at the program's fourth ODAC Championship.
In his 12th season at the helm, Head Coach Neil Cunningham recognizes the struggles he may encounter early on, but the main focus for the year will remain the same as any other, "try to reach a level of consistency."
"These two have been exceptional players and teammates the last three years," Cunningham commented on Daigle and Todd. "They have great leadership qualities and know how to handle situations well." Along with these attributes, Daigle and Todd are both "familiar and comfortable" with the way the coaching staff runs its program, which will be beneficial when helping mold the incoming first-years.
Strong senior leadership is important to be successful, but the eight-person sophomore class could be the determining factor of this year's overall performance. As first-years, the class helped guide W&L to a 13-4-2 record and advance to the ODAC semifinal round before losing to Lynchburg, 1-0. Midfielder Holley Beasley was named the 2011 ODAC Co-Rookie of the Year and forward Katherine Rush collected first team all-conference honors. The top four scorers from last season were also all rookies.
"I am expecting a lot from this [sophomore] class," said Cunningham. On top of their talent on the field, he looks forward to the players taking on more leadership-type roles with the newcomers. "These girls are a very close unit and are committed to improving last year's performances."
The front line will feature a large number of these sophomores, including Rush, last season's leading scorer.
Recording a team-best 29 points (12 g, 5a) a year ago, Rush will be joined by fellow classmates, Emily Scott and Katie Rossi, at the forward position. The three teamed up last year to score nearly 40 percent of the Generals' total points, notching 21 goals and 16 assists. With a year at the collegiate level already under their belt, Cunningham believes the trio will be able to step up their play in the more important games.
Sophomore KJ Lancaster will also be featured on the front line in 2012 and will look to have a greater impact on the program, while junior Jasmine Soo will be an exciting addition upfront after she missed most of her sophomore campaign due to injury. As a first-year, Soo started 10 games and registered two goals and one assist.
Support for the forward unit does not appear to be an issue as the midfield contains some of the most versatile players for the Blue and White this season. A number of new faces to the group will allow for even greater depth to an already established unit.
Included in that list is Beasley, who garnered First Team All-State and second team all-region honors as a first-year on top of her all-conference accolades. She finished the season second ranked only to Rush in total points for the team, tallying 12 goals and four assists. Because of her further development in the offseason, Cunningham is excited to watch her become a dominant presence in the league.
According to Cunningham, playing alongside veteran teammates such as Daigle and junior Alexis Blight, Beasley will be "allowed more freedom to move forward," producing more plays near the goal. "With Daigle and Blight's experience and toughness, the three should prove to be a formidable force."
Sackfield and Abraham are both expected to make a greater impact this season, a "break through season" as Cunningham puts it. Ward will enter the field in a Generals uniform for the first time in 2012 after suffering a season-ending injury last year.
The defensive third took the biggest hit from graduation, as all three starting backs and the goalkeeper must be replaced. The lineup is still unknown to Cunningham, who is still undecided about his defensive third.
"Our biggest challenge will be to fill those gaps," noted Cunningham, "and we need to have that settled as early as possible."
Todd will play an integral part in the construction of this new-look defense as she has witnessed the intensity it requires to be successful on defense alongside some of the best in program history. Cunningham is also looking forward to additional playing time from senior Katie Howard and sophomore Taylor DeVoe.
"Todd's and Howard's leadership, coupled with DeVoe's athletic ability, should give us a strong foundation in the back," said Cunningham.
Even with so many needs to be filled in other areas, the real test for the Generals will be replacing their record-setting goalkeeper.
Two keepers fill the roster this season, sophomore Kingsley Schroeder and first-year Addie Healy (Waterford, Va.). Neither has seen significant playing time at the collegiate level, but Cunningham is confident he will find the right protector for the net.
As always, the Generals will have to make it through a tough schedule to claim the coveted ODAC Championship and receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Conference foes Lynchburg and Virginia Wesleyan were tabbed 15th and 20th, respectively, in the NSCAA Division III Preseason Poll, and with the addition of Shenandoah, the 2011 USA South Champion, W&L will have another opportunity to test out its strengths against a reputable program. The Blue and White were voted to place third in the conference this season by the league's coaches, behind only LC and VWC.
The Generals kick off their season on Saturday, September 1 when they host Southern Virginia for a 3:00 pm contest.
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