No time off after best finish in Vikings history

Head Coach Travis Connell

Jan. 22, 2014

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By Jeffrey Graham, reporter, The Western Front

After finishing the best season in Western Washington University soccer history, the women's soccer team is already hard at work in training for next season.

The team finished first in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference with a record of 16-1-0 and followed it with an appearance in the Final Four of the NCAA Division II National Tournament - a feat which no other Western soccer team, men or women, has accomplished.

That great of a season raised the bar for all seasons to come, head coach Travis Connell said.

"Once you get a taste of this kind of success, you want it," Connell said. "The trick is figuring out how to make it happen."

Connell and the rest of his staff are now in the process of piecing together another championship-caliber team. They are trying out different formations with different combinations of players to figure out what works well for the fall season ahead.

Seven seniors will be graduating at the end of the school year. Leaving with them will be 20 of the team's 57 goals, 30 of the team's 55 assists, starting goalkeeper Alyssa Beauchamp and both team captains.

Senior midfielder Ashton Griffen led the team in assists with a grand total of 11 and is one of the departing captains. She said the offseason is not about replacing players, but about returning players stepping up to set the tone for the season.

Players like junior defender Brianna Jones, junior midfielder Kim Cooper and sophomore midfielder Stephanie Hamilton are going to be key players who will lead the team next year, Griffen said.

The team will look different next year after losing so many players, and the combination of new and returning players will lead to the formation of a new team identity with a new style of play, Connell said.

"If we try to play the same way we did last year, but with different players, it's not going to work," Connell said. "Every change in the roster changes the team dynamic, and we are laying the foundation of who we are going to be."

Most of the team makeup has not been decided yet, Connell said. He added he is excited for the new class of recruits coming in to bolster the roster for next season, but said he is unable to publicly identify the players until they sign in February.

"I have lots of problems with how I'm going to get everyone playing time because we have a lot of good players, and that's a position I want to be in," Connell said.

Griffen and other seniors are standing in at team practices as extra bodies so the team can have a full squad to practice with, she said. She believes making it to the Final Four will be the team's strength moving forward into the fall, she said.

Ten returning players have been to the NCAA National Tournament twice. The 2012 team finished in the NCAA Division II regional final, losing to UC San Diego in overtime. Connell said success starts with working hard in the offseason and creating a winning culture.

"This motivates us to work that much harder and understand that there is a correlation to the work we put in the offseason to the results we get in the fall season," Connell said.

One of the main targets of the offseason will be figuring out how to replace the offensive production vacated by graduating seniors, Connell said.

Sophomore Catherine Miles led the team with 15 goals and will be back for her junior year, but the team is losing senior forward and co-captain Kristin Maris, who was second on the team in goals scored, with 11.

Replacing senior goalkeeper Alyssa Beauchamp, who started every game for Western last season, will be a vital decision for the team next season to keep a solid defense, Griffen said.

The two keepers on the roster, junior Ashley Haden and freshman Miranda Head, are both capable of filling the starting role and both are hungry and competing for it during the offseason, Connell said.

Connell said the team is not to replicate last year, but to find another way to succeed.

"My advice to them is to be less worried about being in the Final Four and more worried about how they got there," Connell said.

Connell does not have all the answers now as to the team's makeup, but that is what the offseason is for, he said.


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