The Wheaton College women's soccer team posted a 17-4-3 mark in 2010 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 11th consecutive season under head coach Luis Reis. The Lyons graduated four of their top five scorers from a year ago, but return 22 student-athletes – including eight seniors – from a squad that finished the season ranked No. 22 nationally by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA).
"I'm very pleased with how things have developed this preseason," said Reis, who begins his 15th year at Wheaton. "We have so many seniors and juniors, so the transition has been somewhat easy. It's just like any other year – we graduate players, and then the baton is passed down to the returners. We started to see other players stepping up and filling the roles we expected them to fill during our spring season, and that has continued into pre-season camp. We feel very good about every position on the field. I am extremely impressed with how well this team has come together. The returners are focused and on a mission."
The forwards are led by senior Cassey Muse (Candia, N.H./Central), who led the Lyons and tied for third in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) with 11 goals as a junior. Muse also finished tied for the team lead in points with 27 while potting three game-winning goals.
Muse is joined up front by sophomore Kristina Braga (Lowell, Mass./Lowell), who recorded eight points (3-2-8) points in 19 matches in 2010. "Kristina had a really good spring," said Reis. "She played extremely well in Barcelona during our Spain trip in March."
Senior Jessica Stuart (Weymouth, Mass./Weymouth) netted six goals last season and will see time both at forward and in the backfield. Freshman Shelby Benoit (Easthampton, Mass./Hampshire Regional), who was an All-Western Massachusetts and all-state selection last fall, will also receive playing time up front.
The midfielders – led by seniors Emily Vincunas (Granville, Mass./Wilbraham & Monson Academy) and Kaitlyn Mawicke (Trumbull, Conn./Notre Dame Catholic) - will all see time at forward as well. "There are a lot of moving parts because we have several players who can play multiple positions, depending on the formation, opponent, and/or score of the game" said Reis.
Vincunas returns after scoring nine points (3-3-9) in 23 matches last season. Mawicke, meanwhile, appeared in 19 matches (three starts) in 2010 and appears ready to elevate her game to another level. "Kaitlyn Mawicke has been fantastic," said Reis. "She was our best player in camp."
Joining the two seniors in the middle are sophomore Joy-Marie Fernandes (Woburn, Mass./Northfield Mount Hermon School) and freshmen Lauren Corigliano (Roselle Park, N.J./Roselle Park) and Gabriella Verde (Miami, Fla./Gulliver Prep). Fernandes notched six points (2-2-6) in 19 games as a freshman, which earned her a starting spot this season. Corigliano was a First Team All-Mountain Valley Conference last fall and will start immediately in the midfield for Reis, as will Verde, who helped Gulliver Prep win a state championship in 2010.
"Lauren and Gabriella have done very well in preseason, but that doesn't surprise me," said Reis. "I saw them play enough during the recruiting process and felt confident about their ability to play right away."
Perhaps the biggest mystery surrounding the Lyons this season is junior Tara Caney (West Springfield, Mass./West Springfield), a midfielder who is coming off a slew of injuries. "Tara Caney has had three knee surgeries in three years and has played a total of four games during her first two years," explained Reis. "She's been cleared to practice and is training with us, and she can be a difference maker. I'm confident that if she is healthy and her knee is stable, she's really going to be able to help us out in the midfield. She's such a smart, technical, and inspirational player. Her work ethic is unbelievable, and I want her to be on that field."
A starter during the second half of the 2010 campaign, sophomore Christina Angione (Manhattan, N.Y./Beacon School) will also receive playing time at midfield, along with seniors Jessica Gray (Carver, Mass./Sacred Heart) and Bailey Bowling (Littleton, Colo./Littleton), and sophomores Anya Sokolova (Andover, Mass./Austin Prep) and Abby Tobin (Lynnfield, Mass./Lynnfield).
Starting on defense for the Lyons will be juniors Kierstin Luber (Cedar Park, Texas/Cedar Park) and Samantha Cronin (Wethersfield, Conn./Wethersfield), and sophomore Rachelle Rodman (Fair Oaks, Calif./Bella Vista). Cronin chipped in with four assists in 16 matches (seven starts) last season while Rodman appeared in 20 matches (10 starts) and Luber played in 19 (two starts). "All three have been standout players for us during camp," said Reis. "They've all embraced, with confidence, the fact that they are filling vacant starter positions and now it is their opportunity to be full time starters and become major contributors."
Senior Lindsey Cobb (Shrewsbury, Mass./Saint Peter-Marian) joins juniors Samantha Bennett (Weymouth, Mass./Weymouth), Jordan Muse (Candia, N.H./Central), and Maria Veronesi (Plainville, Conn./Suffield Academy) as players who will receive playing time and provide ample depth in the backfield. The aforementioned Jessica Stuart will also see time on defense.
Wheaton returns two of its three goalkeepers from a year ago in seniors Erin Cawley (West Springfield, Mass./West Springfield) and Lindsay Leddy (Warwick, R.I./Wheeler School). Cawley went 6-2-2 with a 0.45 goals against average (GAA) and an .891 save percentage while Leddy posted a 5-0-1 mark with a 0.73 GAA and an .886 save pct. Reis said the pair will share goalkeeping duties this season.
The Lyons begin the 2011 season playing four of their first five matches at home. They begin the season on Thursday, Sept. 1 by hosting defending The Commonwealth Coast Conference (TCCC) Champion Roger Williams University at 4:30 p.m., then welcome Worcester State to Norton for a 2 p.m. match on Saturday. Following a road match at Suffolk, the Lyons return home to host Williams (Sept. 11) and Endicott (Sept. 14). They begin the NEWMAC portion of the schedule on Sept. 17 when they travel to Worcester to face WPI.
"We take the same approach every year," said Reis. "We've had plenty of all-conference, all-region, and all-america players come through here and graduate. We always move on and don't live in the past. This year is no different. With the strength of schedule we play, we just know that our goal is to have a successful year. I am just as excited for my 15th year as I was for my first year in 1997. I love this time of year."