WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- With most of last year's starting line-up returning, including three All-Northwest Conference players, the women's soccer team at Whitman College is poised for a run at a second straight winning season.
"With most of our core players coming from the junior, sophomore and freshman classes, we're still a young team," coach Scott Shields says. "With most of our players returning and a strong first-year class, we're in position to make a greater impact this fall in our conference. Maybe we're not quite ready to challenge for one of the top spots, but after we had such a tremendous season last fall, you never know."
The Missionaries finished at 9-8-1 last season, which included a 5-8-1 mark in the NWC, good enough for a fourth-place tie with Whitworth. Whitman actually had a better season than its eastern Washington rival, beating Whitworth twice during the season as the Pirates slipped to a 7-10-1 record overall.
In this fall's preseason poll of NWC coaches, Whitman garnered 38 votes to fill the fifth spot. The poll placed Whitworth one point ahead in the fourth slot.
For a second consecutive time, the poll tabbed Puget Sound and Willamette as co-favorites for this year's title. Willamette won its eighth NWC crown in nine years last fall, narrowly edging Puget Sound before advancing as far as the NCAA Div. III semifinals.
Linfield, which finished third in the NWC standings last fall, collected 43 votes to take the third spot in the latest poll.
"It appears that Willamette and Puget Sound are still the top teams," Shields says. "At the same time, I'm sure there are a few schools, including Whitman, who will pull some upsets and make the top teams earn a title."
Now in his ninth season, Shields looks to sophomore forward Katey Schmitz, junior defender Meghan Bowen and senior midfielder Erin Bray as three keys to another successful season.
Schmitz (Medina, Wash. / Bellevue HS) was one of only two first-year players who earned First Team All-NWC honors last fall. Schmitz scored seven goals on the season. Only five players in the conference found the back of the net more frequently than Schmitz.
Bowen (Bellevue, Wash. / Newport HS), a team captain last fall, anchored Whitman's defense and earned Second Team All-NWC recognition for the second time in two seasons. Bowen captured awards as Whitman's Best Defensive Player and Most Valuable Player in each of her first two seasons.
Schmitz and Bowen also earned spots last fall on the NCAA Div. III Far West All-Region Third Team.
Bray (Canon, Colo. / Canon HS), a junior in terms of athletic eligibility, sparked Whitman's offense last fall with seven assists and one goal. Only two players in the conference had more assists than Bray.
"Erin captained the offense and is the kind of player who gets the ball to the right person," Shields says. "Her greatest strength is her vision of the field. Few players see the field as well as Erin."
Overall defense will be a strength for the Missionaries. Joining Bowen as returning starters are junior Lindsay Gore (Bainbridge Island, Wash. / Bainbridge HS), sophomore Lindsay Colgan (Sumner, Wash. / Sumner HS) and senior Anna Pepper (Kirkland, Wash. / Overlake School). Sophomore Kim Boese (Edmonds, Wash. / Meadowdale HS), now fully recovered from a knee injury suffered 18 months ago, is also expected to compete for a starting spot on defense.
Shields gave his annual Coach's Award last fall to Gore, who developed into a team leader as the season progressed. "All of her teammates admire and respect her," he says. "She was the player we used on defense to mark the other team's biggest offensive threat. She is definitely one of our toughest players."
Bray will have plenty of help in the midfield with starters Sara Weihmann, Kaitlin Varady and Jennifer Weissman all returning.
Weihmann (West Linn, Ore. / West Linn HS) , a junior, contributed two goals and three assists last fall. Teammates voted her the squad's Most Inspirational Player award. "What a fantastic player to have on any team," Shields says. "Sara always brings energy and intelligence. She has high expectations for herself, which is evident in her work ethic, and she pushes all of her teammates to become better players."
Varady (Fairfield, Calif. / Justin-Siena HS), a junior, tallied five goals and one assist last season. She paced Whitman to a 2-1 victory over Pacific Lutheran last October, scoring one goal and assisting on another.
Weissman (Redmond, Wash. / Eastlake HS), a sophomore, started her freshman season as a solid contributor off the bench and eventually moved into a starting role. With limited opportunities, Weissman scored just one goal, but "her speed and athleticism make her an offensive threat," Shields says. "She has a very dangerous shot, one that I hope to see more frequently this season."
Joining Schmitz at forward is sophomore Nanette Langston (Bend, Ore. / Bend HS). Langston made an immediate impact last fall, scoring the game-winning goal in Whitman's season-opening victory over Whittier College. She added a second goal the next day in a 2-1 triumph over Occidental College.
"Nanette scored some key goals for us last fall and proved herself many times over," Shields says. Langston finished her first collegiate campaign with three goals and two assists.
Seniors Julia Makowski (Boulder, Colo. / Boulder HS) and Jana Seaman (Boise, Idaho / Centennial HS) give the Missionaries more experienced depth at the forward spot.
Makowski, a junior in athletic eligibility, booted four goals and two assists last season. Two of her goals in a late-season 2-0 victory over Whitworth in Spokane.
Seaman added three goals and one assist during the season. One of her goals was the difference in Whitman's 1-0 victory over Montana State-Billings.
Shields, who earned NWC Coach of the Year honors last fall for the second time in his Whitman tenure, welcomes a total of 17 first-players competing for about eight varsity spots. "I'm excited about our freshman class," he says. "Having so many new players is a great position for a coach. The toughest part will be making the final selections for the team."
First-year players include Lauren DeYoung (Portland, Ore. / Jesuit HS), McKenzie Hoffman (Redmond, Wash. / Eastlake HS) and Hillary Chisholm (Coeur d'Alene, Idaho / Lake City HS). All three players have older brothers who are attending and/or playing men's soccer at Whitman.
McKenzie Hoffman is the third member of her family to play at Whitman. Brother Nate is a senior this fall, while oldest brother Damian finished his playing career in 1998.
Hillary Chisholm's brother, Tyler, is a junior defender on the men's team this fall. Lauren DeYoung's brother, Daniel, is a senior at Whitman, although he doesn't play varsity soccer.
"McKenzie, Hillary and Lauren are all quality players," Shields says. "They will definitely strengthen our program. Our conference is as strong as ever, so we need to have a strong first-year class."
The only key players Whitman lost from last year's team are midfielder Megan Mackenzie, forward Liz Davis and goalkeeper Rena Parcells.
"Our biggest question mark at this point is goalkeeper," Shields says.
Parcells (Walla Walla, Wash. / Walla Walla HS), was last year's starter as a sophomore, posting four shutouts and averaging more than seven saves per game. She is on foreign study this academic year, attending the University of Queensland in Australia.
Parcells' two back-ups last year were first-year players, neither of whom are back with the team this fall. That leaves the keeper position in the hands of newcomer Anne Owen (Bozeman, Mont. / Taft School). "Anne has a solid background," Shields says.
Amy Kunkle-Patterson (Yakima, Wash. / Davis HS), also a first-year player, plays defender and serves as this year's back-up at the keeper spot.
Mackenzie (Spokane, Wash. / Lewis & Clark HS), a three-year starter at center-midfield and a Whitman team captain, has transferred to New York's Columbia University as part of a cooperative engineering program between the two schools. Mackenzie is playing her senior soccer season for the Lions, who compete at the NCAA Div. I level.
Mackenzie's younger sister, Kara Mackenzie, is a first-year player this fall. "Kara plays forward and has a lot of talent," Shields says. "She's going to make a strong impact in her first season."
Davis (Pacific Palisades, Calif. / Palisades Charter HS), who had two goals and an assist last year as a senior, is the only Missionary player who was lost to graduation.
Whitman kicks off its season by hosting Walla Walla Community College in an exhibition game at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31.
After playing two games on the road, the Missionaries return for a Sept. 13 exhibition game with the Eastern Washington University junior varsity.
Whitman wraps up its pre-conference slate with home games on Sept. 15 and Sept. 22 against Carroll College and Montana State-Billings.
The Missionaries play their first three NWC games on the road, including their Sept. 25 conference opener at Whitworth.