Returning Vets Anchor Women's Soccer Team
WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- With a roster anchored by a bevy of returning veterans, the Whitman College women's soccer team is poised to leapfrog its way up the Northwest Conference standings this fall.
"There is no way we're not going to have a significantly better season than a year ago," second-year coach Heather Cato says.
"We have seven seniors who can play and some juniors who contribute as well. We have experience, talent and depth, and our mental toughness and teamwork are better than it was last year.
"We're excited about getting started. We think we're going to have an amazing season."
Losing seven games by a single goal last fall, Whitman finished seventh in the NWC standings with a 4-10-2 record (6-11-2 overall).
A recent preseason coaches poll, however, picked the Missionaries to finish fourth in 2011.
"If we accomplish all of our little goals along the way, we've got a good chance to finish in the top three," Cato says.
"Our ultimate goal, obviously, is to win the conference title, but regardless of whether than happens or not, we're going to play better, feel better about ourselves and finish higher in the standings than we did last year."
The seven savvy seniors at the tip of the 2011 spear are midfielders Amy Hasson, Taylor Chock and Marisol Fonzeca, defenders Libby Watkins, Kate Potter and Claire Westcott, and goalkeeper Lauren Brougham.
|Taylor Chock (on ball), Kate Potter
"This is a senior class that will make a big difference this season and in the next few years as well," Cato says. "They will help grow our program for the future because all of the younger players respect them and continue to learn from them.
"There isn't much to say about our senior class other than it's a great one."
Hasson, a three-year starter and two-time captain, can be something of a frightening force on the field at times, going through rather than around the opposition on occasion. She heads to her senior season with career scoring numbers of 10 goals and 13 assists.
"It's been a pleasure to watch Amy continue to grow as a player since the end of last season," Cato says.
"From our spring workouts and our summer trip to England to the start of practice this month, her commitment to her sport has never wavered. I look for her to do a bunch of good things for us this season."
Hasson earned All-NWC First-Team honors two years ago when she contributed two goals and a team-leading eight assists to the offense.
Chock, a two-year starter, made the transition last season from outside back to outside midfield.
"Taylor is incredibly fit and has a better understanding of the new system I brought with me last fall," Cato says. "She is looking very, very good so far."
Fonzeca, one of the smaller players on the field, moved into a starting role last fall after serving as a part-time starter the season before.
"Marisol knows how to play this game, and for someone who isn't very big, she can still be a brute," Cato says. "She definitely adds more toughness to our midfield."
Watkins, Potter and Westcott likely represent three-quarters of Whitman's starting defensive back line for the season ahead.
Throw in junior Erin Flannery, who made the All-NWC Second Team last fall, and "you've got a very solid, experienced defense," Cato says.
"We have some talented younger defenders, but it might be hard for any of them to break up those four. They have played together a lot and, if anything, they solidified themselves as a unit during our summer games in England."
Watkins, a starter in her first two years, missed part of last season because of injury. "Libby is healthy and fit to start the season," Cato says.
Potter started half her games in her first season and has been a starter ever since. Westcott, a reserve the past two seasons, has "really stepped up her fitness level, which has helped her game a lot," Cato says.
Flannery, the lone non-senior with an inside track on a defensive starting spot, is a "great defender," Cato says. "She's also starting to become vocal on the field. That's something we will really need once we lose our seniors to graduation."
Flannery, who missed her first season because of injury, was the only Whitman player to log more than 1,700 minutes on the field last season.
As she did a year ago, Brougham is battling sophomore Emily Davis for the goalkeeper's spot.
Brougham played in 14 games last fall, starting 10 and posting one shutout. Davis had a pair of shut-outs in five starts.
"Both of our keepers played well in England," Cato says. "Both impressed me. They did a much better job of talking on the field, moving their defense and letting people know when they weren’t happy. That's what we need."
Respond! That's Whitman's watchword for the season ahead, Cato says.
"How are these players and this team going to respond to new and different situations? Both of our returning keepers have responded in good ways since the end of last season."
Cato has yet to name a starting goalkeeper, and there's a definite possibility the assignment could be shared throughout the season.
"Both will get the chance to play in the games prior to conference," she says. "After that, things could change from week to week."
Joining Flannery in the junior class are midfielders Jaclyn Rudd and Julianne Masser, midfielder-forward Marisa Poorboy and forward Misha Evertz.
Rudd, now in her second season as a team captain, had two goals and an assist last fall. She also started most games in her first season, when she kicked in two goals and two assists.
"Jaclyn sees the field and does a good job distributing the ball," Cato says.
Masser is moving to the midfield after generating seven goals and one assist in her first two seasons as a forward. "Julianne's strong suit is her foot speed, but right now she's working hard on learning a new position and new role," Cato says.
Poorboy, who led Whitman in scoring last fall with five goals and three assists, is sidelined at the moment with injuries sustained in Whitman's early August trip to England.
Evertz, who did not play in her first year at Whitman, made it into six games last fall. "Misha moves well and has good technical skills with the ball," Cato says.
Of the eight returning sophomores, midfielders Hallie Swan and MacKenzie Hughes saw the most playing time in their rookie seasons.
Swan started 18 and 19 games and was one of only four Missionaries to play more than 1,500 minutes. She dented the scoring column with one goal and two assists.
"There are reasons Hallie played almost every minute last season," Cato says. "She contributes in a lot of ways."
Hughes was ill to start last season but eventually played her way into 18 games, seven as a starter. She finished with four goals and one assist.
"MacKenzie has the potential to really push Taylor Chock and Marisol Fonzeca for playing time at the outside midfield positions," Cato says. "She can do what we need on the outside, which is to score and also make things happen by sending crosses into the middle."
Whitman's depth at the outside midfield spots will come in handy, Cato says. "We're going to need more than just a few. Those players will be running constantly during the games."
Other returning sophomores are forward Pamela London, midfielders Kelsey Roehner and Liz Clagett, and defenders Sara Sonnenblick and Taylor Thomas.
London played in seven games last fall on defense but then started the transition to forward last spring.
"Pamela has the size and strength you need at the forward spot to hold off players," Cato says. "She also has an incredible shot. She just needs to keep working at her new role."
Roehner played in 18 games last season, starting five while ringing the pipes for one goal and two assists. Clagett played in 12 games and continues to do a "good job of adapting her game to our system, which is a lot different from what she played in high school," Cato says.
Sonnenblick, who played in 14 games (five as a starter) last year as a defender, was also hurt in England. She tweaked the injury again in early workouts and may need a few weeks to rehab.
"Sara is a solid all-around player who might also see time eventually at forward," Cato says. "She can hold the ball and hold people off, and she also has an amazing shot."
Thomas, who played in 15 games last season as a midfielder, is moving to the outside back. "She stepped into that position in England and has done very well there," Cato says.
This year's first-year class includes a pair of top-notch defenders in Raechel Gano (Bellevue, Wash.; Sammamish HS) and Nicolette Carnahan (Federal Way, Wash.; Jefferson HS).
"Raechel is still recovering a bit from knee surgery seven months ago, but you can tell she knows what she's doing," Cato says. "It's just a matter of getting her adapted to the college game."
Carnahan is bouncing back from hip surgery and remains limited in her workouts.
"I've seen Nicolette play in the past, so I know she's going to help our team once she is healthy," Cato says.
Helen Brown, a first-year player from McLean, Va., is changing positions this fall, moving to forward after playing defense during her prep career at The Field School in Washington, D.C.
"We talked to her during the recruiting process about moving to forward, and she played that position for her club team this past year," Cato says. "She has good size and strength, and we think she's going to develop into a good forward."
Rounding out the first-year class are midfielders Justine Kovak (Portland, Ore.; St. Mary's Academy) and Jade Anderson (Claremont, Calif.; Claremont HS).
"Justine is more of a holding central defender like Jaclyn Rudd," Cato says. "She can distribute and knows how to play her role.
"Jade has the quickness you need at outside mid. She's working on coming back as well as she goes forward."
While her defense might be more of a proven commodity, Cato is confident her offense will produce more scoring in the weeks ahead.
"We didn't create enough scoring chances last season, which meant we were in trouble when we failed to capitalize on what few opportunities we had," she says.
"Based on what we saw in our eight games in England we're going to create a lot more quality chances this season. If you have 15 to 20 chances, it's a lot easier to get three or more goals."
Much of Cato's optimism stems from a revamped line-up that makes better use of many of the same players.
"We've made some changes based on where we think people can best contribute to our team success," she says. "It's created more depth and made us a much more effective team."
Whitman kicks off its season with a non-conference home game against Eastern Oregon University at 2:30 p.m. this Sunday, Sept. 4.
The Missionaries had been slated to open on Friday, Sept. 2, against Trinity Lutheran College (Everett, Wash.), but that game was re-scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 19.
After two road games in Minnesota against Augsburg College (Sept. 8) and Bethel University (Sept. 10), Whitman returns home to open its NWC season against Whitworth on Wednesday, Sept. 14.