NORTON, MA- It's tough to imagine what would lead an NCAA Tournament qualifier to having a chip on its shoulder the following fall, but after seeing a promising season beset by injuries in 2008, the Wheaton College women's soccer team enters 2009 looking to reclaim past conference tournament hardware while making an appearance in its 10th straight national tournament.
"This is the first time in 10 years we're not ranked in the preseason," said 13th-year head coach Luis Reis, whose 234-37-10 career record is one of the best among active Division III coaches. "That's certainly extra motivation and extra incentive. With the current attitude of the team, this feels like the Wheaton program of years past. It's been such a great, positive environment since the first day they arrived for preseason."
Due to injuries, only five Lyons appeared in all 24 contests last fall, and with numerous playing out of position, the offensive production and number of shutouts posted were both the program's lowest since 1998. Wheaton also saw its New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) unbeaten streak end at 91 games, the second-longest run in NCAA soccer history regardless of gender or division.
"We kept looking over our shoulder last fall and going, 'Oh, wow, we have eight players on the sideline injured, and we only have 11 players for practice,'" said Reis. "We had to change how we coached. We had to change every day based on how many players we'd have at practice."
Despite that, Wheaton went 16-6-2 overall, including 7-1-1 during league play to claim a share of its 10th straight NEWMAC regular season title. The Blue and White narrowly fell short of its 10th tournament title, dropping an overtime affair at Springfield College in the championship game. The Lyons received a bid to the NCAA Tournament before suffering another one-goal setback, falling to eventual Elite 8 qualifier Eastern University in the first round.
With 13 newcomers to the program, including 11 freshmen, Reis brought much-needed depth to what is now a 30-player roster. "The returners are playing at a much higher level than last year because they were challenged during our spring season and are now challenged with the exciting new additions to the team this fall," said Reis. "They are even more determined, motivated and focused based on what happened last year."
The Lyons will have four captains in 2009, and Reis sees them - along with sophomore goalkeeper Lindsay Leddy (Warwick, RI/Wheeler School) - as the spine of the team, with each playing the central portion of their respective segment of the field. "They don't have an ego; they're all on the same page," said Reis, who is joined by assistant coach Brad Knighton, the back-up keeper for the New England Revolution, and a Wheaton coach most recently in 2007. "I feel fortunate that we have four players up the middle who are captains, who are driven and play the Wheaton way."
Second-year captains Rosie Levy (Torrance, CA/Chadwick School) and Lyndsey McManus (Marshfield, MA/Marshfield) are among the squad's three seniors. McManus was lauded as an all-region and all-conference player for her work on defense, and she should see time both as a back and on the forward line. McManus also collected six helpers her junior year. Kathleen Carroll (New Paltz, NY/New Paltz Central) missed all but the first four games last season due to injury, and she returns as a back and a forward.
Two more captains hail from the junior class, as back Alessia Viscomi (Newton, MA/Newton North) first wore the captain's band during Levy's absence last fall before Colleen Liffers (Merrimac, MA/Pentucket Regional) was voted into the role in the spring. Viscomi earned All-America, all-region and all-conference status as a sophomore, extending Wheaton's streak of having an All-America defender to seven years. Liffers suffered a season-ending injury in the sixth game of 2008 and will continue to make an impact in the backfield and midfield.
Junior Emily Hough (Norwich, VT/Hanover) was an all-region and all-conference striker in 2008, tallying 13 goals, 11 assists and five game-winning markers while moving into the top 10 in program history in career points and goals. This fall, she will also appear as a defender for the first time. Classmates Christina Bertrand (Agawam, MA/Cathedral) and Lauren Caney (West Springfield, MA/West Springfield) each provided stability in the backfield last season but have made the move to the midfield and forward, respectively. Midfielder Amanda Resendes (Swansea, MA/Joseph Case) completes the Class of 2011.
For the second straight fall, Wheaton's primary goalkeeper figures to be Leddy, who went 13-5-2 with 10 shutouts and a 0.65 goals against average while drawing 19 starts as a freshman. Sophomore backs Lindsey Cobb (Shrewsbury, MA/Saint Peter-Marian) and Jessica Stuart (Weymouth, MA/Weymouth) will both aid the defensive cause. Stuart scored five goals while seeing action in other portions of the field last year.
Forward Bailey Bowling (Littleton, CO/Littleton) and midfielders Jessica Gray (Carver, MA/Sacred Heart) and Kristin Lang (Glenshaw, PA/Shaler Area) all return as experienced sophomores, as Gray tied Viscomi for the team lead with 23 starts last year. Kaitlyn Mawicke (Trumbull, CT/Notre Dame Catholic) and Emily Vincunas (Granville, MA/Wilbraham & Monson Academy) will both appear at forward and in the midfield.
Two additional sophomores joined the squad during the non-traditional spring season and enter their first year of college action. Erin Cawley (West Springfield, MA/West Springfield) will back up Leddy in net, and Alex Woodhouse (Portland, ME/Waynflete School) should make an impact as a midfielder and might see action as a forward.
Filling out the roster is a freshman class that includes three first-year athletes from Texas, one from Georgia, and twins from New Hampshire. Tara Caney (West Springfield, MA/West Springfield), the younger sister of Lauren Caney, joins Samantha Cronin (Wethersfield, CT/Wethersfield) and Brittany Odgers (Roseland, NJ/West Essex) as being slated to appear as both forwards and midfielders. Keely Angelo (Atlanta, GA/Paideia School), Robin Bradley (Dickinson, TX/Dickinson) and Kierstin Luber (Cedar Park, TX/Cedar Park) are all capable of playing midfield and in the backfield.
Forward Cassey Muse (Candia, NH/Central) and back Jordan Muse (Candia, NH/Central) are the Class of 2013's twins, Anna Emery (Dallas, TX/Bishop Lynch) is a forward, and Samantha Bennett (Weymouth, MA/Weymouth) and Maria Veronesi (Plainville, CT/Suffield Academy) are both defenders. Bennett is also slated to be a member of the track & field team.
The Lyons are set to face four squads that qualified for the 2008 NCAA Tournament, and two more that advanced as far as their conference's postseason title game. Wheaton opens the season on September 1 versus defending The Commonwealth Coast Conference (TCCC) Tournament champion Roger Williams University, which advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Blue and White starts NEWMAC play at Mount Holyoke College on September 26, and the postseason begins on October 31.
With so much depth, Reis said as many as three players could be contending for the same starting spot at any given time. "It's difficult to decide who's in the starting lineup, but it's a good problem," he said. "We can sub 10 out and put 10 new players in. There's so much depth, it creates so much competition."