Last November, the Virginia women's soccer team fell to Ohio State 3-2 in front of a home crowd in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. Virginia had to sit home and watch as The Buckeyes moved past Georgetown in the next round and made it to the final four in Cary, NC before falling to eventual national champion Notre Dame.
That disappointment - especially the way the loss happened, being down 3-0 and coming back to within one goal - was one of only a few sour notes on an otherwise impressive season that saw the Cavaliers ranked in the top 10 for the entire regular season, defeat the #1 team in the country and attain a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament.
Even with several of their best players graduated - midfielder Sinead Farrelly and forward Meghan Lenczyk in particular - this team looks poised to make another similar run in the 2011 season.
Today we take a look at the players. Who is gone, who is back and which first-year might be making a splash on the pitch this season. Tomorrow we'll look at the schedule and tie it all together with our expectations for the year.
What They Lose
Without a doubt, Sinead Farrelly and Meghan Lenczyk are big losses. One just has to glance at the season statistics for 2010 and notice that they're the top two players on a list sorted by offensive production. They lead the team in both goals and points and are second and third, respectively in assists. Farrelly scored 12 goals and had 7 assists for a total of 31 points. Lenczyk had 12 goals and 6 assists for a total of 30 points. That's 35% of the team's offensive production from 2010 gone. The pair both played in and started every single game last season. Farrelly averaged 74 minutes per game, while Lenczyk averaged 61. That's a lot of minutes to replace.
But those two aren't the only Cavaliers lost to graduation. Steve Swanson's club also lose three other players - M/D Colleen Flanagan, M Lindsey Miller and D Kika Toulouse, each of whom appeared in all 22 games last season and had a combined 65 starts between them (Toulouse didn't start one of the games in which she appeared).
Flanagan and Toulouse were defenders, so their stat line is a lot less impressive looking than Farrelly or Lenczyk, but their contributions on the field are no less important. You can't score goals up front if the opponent is holding the ball on your defensive side. Both were instrumental in the Cavaliers' success this past season.
Midfielder Lindsey Miller had three goals and two assists for eight points on the season while playing, on average, just over half of each game. Again, while the numbers aren't as dazzling as her fellow midfielder Farrelly's numbers, it's clear she was a significant contributor on this team.
All told, these five players contributed nearly half of the minutes played on the pitch by the entire team and 45% of the points scored by the entire team. Those are some big cleats to fill.
What They Return
Though it seems like Virginia may have lost a lot to graduation, they also retain a lot of key players all over the field.
Losing the top two point-scorers on the team is rough, but it's nice to know that you're returning numbers three through seven. The headliner of that group is probably senior forward Lauren Alwine who led the team in assists last year (the only person not named Farrelly or Lenczyk to lead the team in an offensive category, it seems). Alwine had four goals and 10 assists for 18 points in 2010. And you'd have to imagine that a lot of the offense will run through her up front this year.
Joining Alwine in the top returning scorers list are sophomore forward Gloria Douglas (7G, 3A), junior middie Julia Roberts (5G, 2A), junior forward Caroline Miller (4G, 2A) and junior M/F Erica Hollenberg (3G, 3A). Douglas, Roberts and Hollenberg played in all 22 games last season while Miller played in 15 games, starting 10 of them.
But lets not forget the defenders, and that starts with the goalie. Keeper Chantel Jones returns for her senior campaign having played in all 22 games last year, starting 21 of them and tallying by far the most minutes of any player on the team. She allowed only 15 goals all season and had a 78% saves percentage.
Throw in some very experienced defenders like juniors Morgan Stith and Emily Corrollo and senior Maggie Kistner and the defense seems like it will be ready to roll this year.
What They Gain
The new first-year class of women includes four players ranked in the top 30 nationally. But most of the attention is on Morgan Brian from St. Simons Island, Ga. Brian was recently named the 2011 Gatorade National Player of the Year and 2011 Gatorade National Female Athlete of the Year. She has also been a member of the US U-17 World Cup team and was named captain of that squad in 2010. It is likely that Brian, a midfielder, will make an immediate impact on the field for the 'Hoos.
How will the rest of the class do? It's hard to say. Almost certainly some of them will redshirt. But there's a lot of talent here. Just take a look at these recruit rankings from TopDrawerSoccer.com:
#1 - Morgan Brian
#4 - Olivia Brannon
#16 - Danielle Colaprico
#30 - Lia Bellizzi
#56 - Kaili Torres
NR - Campbell Millar (but she's a local product from NoVA and her uncle, Todd Hitt, played soccer for Virginia)
Yeah, I think that looks like a pretty good crop of incoming first-years, don't you think?
So now we've set the stage for what the players on the Virginia side of the pitch will look like this season. Tomorrow we'll take a look at the schedule and how we expect the season to play out. Stay tuned!