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Sophomore Kaitlyn Cook scored three goals last season and earned America East All-Rookie honors.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Women’s soccer looks to return to postseason
August 19, 2011Tweet
After an un-Binghamton-like four-win, no-postseason campaign in 2010, Bearcats women’s soccer coach Sarah McClellan and her 29-member squad are eagerly anticipating the clean slate of 2011. After advancing to the America East tournament six straight years, including three straight semifinal berths, the Bearcats suffered a setback in 2010, falling short of the postseason for just the second time in the program’s 10-year Division I tenure.
Now with experience (10 returning starters), added talent in pivotal positions and a boost in team chemistry, McClellan is confident her 2011 edition will return to its competitive nature and be in the mix for another postseason bid.
“Our team was extremely young last season,” McClellan said. “We dealt with early injuries and felt like we were playing catch-up the whole season.”
Last year’s young squad featured eight underclassmen in the starting lineup after injuries cost Binghamton its starting keeper, central striker and a key starting defender. Now McClellan’s sophomore class of nine has been indoctrinated into the speed, toughness and focus required at the collegiate level, and the fourth-year mentor expects those hard lessons from 2010 will pay off this fall.
“We showed perseverance last season and came out committed this spring to creating our own success and making opportunities for ourselves,” she said. “Our attitude and work rate have skyrocketed this year and the players won’t be taking anything for granted.”
The ever-so-slight difference between victory and a tie or defeat was personified by the 2010 Bearcats, who suffered seven one-goal losses that were born of missed opportunities, untimely defensive miscues and a team lacking unity. The team netted just five goals in eight conference games, failing to capitalize on good scoring chances despite owning the better of play in many of those games. In the off-season, McClellan bolstered her lineup with seven newcomers, several of whom will play key roles right from day one.
Healthy forward unit needs to produce
After registering the lowest scoring output (12 goals) in the program’s 10 years of Division I in 2010, Binghamton’s attack needs to cash in on its chances to bolster its win-total.
The up-front unit was hampered by a few injuries and scored two or more goals just three times in 17 games. Juniors Sarah Furminger and Jamie Holliday have had the most success, with Furminger netting three goals with four assists last fall and Holliday producing a four-goal campaign in 2009 before being slowed with an injury last autumn. Furminger is a dynamic threat who sees the game better after her first Division I season in 2010. Holliday is fit and strong and has the endurance to play the entire game. She can shoot with either foot and can strike the ball from any angle.
Fellow juniors Kerry Sullivan and AnnMarie Rizzi have also battled injuries in their Bearcat tenures but have the skills to emerge as scoring threats. A big target at 5-foot-9, Sullivan presents a difficult challenge for opponents and the coaching staff is eying a breakout year from her. Rizzi possesses a high work rate and has reported to camp intently focused on her final collegiate season.
Junior Candice Rowland and talented sophomore Kaitlyn Martin will also see plenty of time. Steadily-improving Rowland hasn’t missed a game in two seasons and has brought her fitness level up a notch. The best is still to come from Martin, a second team all-state scholastic player whose freshman campaign was slowed by injury.
Sophomore Sophia Sylla is recovering from an injury and will likely sit out the season. An explosive player who is very strong on the ball, Sylla is expected to be a key contributor when healthy.
Sophomore Conor O’Brien moves up front from the back line, and has developed more confidence and composure on the ball.
“We feel we have six solid options up top,” McClellan said of her forward unit. “Any of the six could be starting and that will give us two waves of high-intensity attacking personalities.”
Veterans anchor midfield
The midfield unit is comprised of talented players and McClellan’s biggest challenge will be to find the most cohesive group. The line gets a big boost from the return of junior tri-captain Brittany Walsh, who missed the entire 2010 season with an injury. When healthy, Walsh is a smart player with mental toughness who can push forward on attack.
Seniors Mary DeWitte and Taylor Kucharski will fill key roles in center midfield. DeWitte is a supremely fit player who can mark anyone in the defensive half and never stops working. Her ability to also play up top will offer a different dimension to Binghamton’s attack. Kucharski has embraced a strong leadership role for her final collegiate season and the coaching staff believes she will play a major role in 2011. She has played in 44 collegiate games and is a speedy threat on the attack.
“TK, Mary and Brittany are passionate about midfield and are committed to being effective on both sides of the ball,” McClellan said. “They’re the engine of our team and their maturity and experience will carry us a long way.”
Sophomore Kaitlyn Cook was a big spark to the 2010 team with her relentless effort and speed. Cook started 13 games and spent more time on the ball than any other Bearcat last fall, earning America East All-Rookie honors - the lone Bearcat to receive any accolades from opposing coaches. A year’s experience will help fine tune her play in the final third, where she took a team-high 40 shots and netted three goals, including one game-winner.
“Kaitlyn played off natural talent last year,” McClellan said. “This year she is thinking more and developing partnerships in the midfield and because of that maturity, I see this as a breakout year for her.”
Junior tri-captain Emily Pape has returned healthy and fit and will resume a prominent role as the holding central midfielder. She is a good organizer and can also provide penetration on the attack.
Sophomore Emma Kurth and junior Amanda Rittmeier are also options. Kurth, a good server to the front, played in all 17 games as a freshman and showed improvement in the offseason. Rittmeier, a former three-sport scholastic standout, reads the game well and is strong in the air.
Newcomers strengthen back line
After allowing 25 goals in 2010, the back line received a big boost with the addition of two talented center backs, sophomore transfer Meghan McCarty and freshman Connie Gormley. That pair, along with returning starter Alyssa Staubitz will anchor the defensive unit.
McCarty comes to campus with a weighted resume, having started her collegiate career with a Penn State program that was ranked 16th in the nation in 2009. A former scholastic All-American and All-Long Island defender at Oceanside High, McCarty played alongside Staubitz in club soccer and quickly earned tri-captain status after an impressive spring with the team.
“Meghan is a true center back with great size,” McClellan said. “She is a very good vocal organizer who works well with players around her.”
Gormley also has a strong soccer pedigree, having been an all-state defender for a powerful North Rockland High School program that reached the state semifinals last fall. She was named the Journal News Player of the Year in 2010 and has vast club and ODP experience.
“Connie is extremely technical on the ball and shows great composure back there,” McClellan said. “Her speed of play is fast, which has made for an easy transition to the college game. We are counting on both Connie and Meghan to significantly improve our back line.”
McCarty and Gormley are firmly entrenched in the middle of McClellan’s four-back system, leaving Staubitz to start on the left side and junior Megan Campbell, an emerging talent, getting the nod on the right. Senior Jennifer Abbate and freshman Emily Nuss will also earn ample minutes.
Staubitz is a hard-nosed competitor who has good timing on her tackles. With two solid years of back line experience, she can play in the middle or on the outside. Campbell is a consistent player who can shut down the attack from the flank.
Abbate has battled through injuries to play 37 collegiate games and is poised to take advantage of a healthy senior season. Her experience will be valuable to the younger back line players.
Nuss, a third team all-state selection for Jamesville-Dewitt High in Syracuse, is another newcomer whose talent will command minutes. The team’s fastest player, she is polished on the ball and brings an attacking presence to the wingback spot.
Other options in back include junior Mollie Bold, a versatile athlete who began her career at forward, much-improved sophomore Liz Cusato, stern third-year back Taylor McCavanagh and Syracuse transfer Elena Solazzo.
“I think our back line will be vastly improved from a year ago,” McClellan said. “We’ve ramped up our communication level and worked a lot on reading the game and being detail oriented with our shape. We should see more shutouts this season.”
Martin heads quartet of goalkeepers
Sophomore Carrie Martin, who was thrust into the starting role on the eve of the 2010 season, returns a more comfortable and confident keeper in 2011. Martin, who is durable and long at 5-foot-9, posted four shutouts and a 1.44 goals against average in her first collegiate season. With a bit more stability in front of her this fall, McClellan believes Martin can improve on those numbers.
“Carrie received critical experience as a freshman and now has those games under her belt to go forward,” McClellan said. “She has improved her vocal leadership and can make the difficult save to keep us in the game. She is a great presence and leader in the back.
Sophomore shot-stopper Stephanie Speirs and talented freshman Gaby Gold will push for minutes. Gold was an all-county selection for Westfield High (N.J.) and brings a tenacity to compete. Freshman Alyssa Gutierrez, a two-time all-state and first team All-Long Island selection from Sachem East, will begin her promising career after recovering from an injury.
Personal development and team chemistry a priority
McClellan is most excited about the team camaraderie this fall and believes that intangible, coupled with an upgrade in skill and experience, will keep the Bearcats in the hunt for a postseason berth.
“We have a special group of players who are fully committed to our program and each other,” she said. “I think this team could go down in the books as a special team that can accomplish unprecedented success. They have the mentality, focus and drive to help each other reach our goals. The players are more mature and are ‘all-in.’ They celebrate each other’s contributions on and off the field and that unity shows up when it’s time to perform.”
Performing off the field has never been a struggle for McClellan’s program, which has a strong reputation for academic success and volunteerism. She believes strongly in personal development and accountability and has instituted organized weekly sessions to help ignite confidence and togetherness.
“We work very hard to help the team maintain focus and perspective,” she said. “Our personal development program stresses leadership and commitment and combined with our academic program, we feel it gives each of our student-athletes the tools and confidence to excel on and off the field.”
After finishing seventh in 2010, America East coaches have picked Binghamton to place seventh in the Preseason Poll, released in August. Last year, just three points separated second place from fifth place. With a win worth three points and a tie affording just one point, earning victories instead of draws carries huge ramifications in conference play. McClellan is optimistic that her team will be ready for the pressure of league play and ready to play into November.
“Our team has made a commitment to each other to extend this season into the postseason,” she said. “Our focus has sharpened up at both ends of the field. There are important moments of the game when we can concede something or finish something ... and that’s when we need to be locked in as a team. I believe we are right there.”