Viking women look to end two-year postseason drought
Aug. 24, 2008
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
JOE SUNNEN, THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
When Western Washington University sophomore Claire Morgan looks back on last year's women's soccer season, it's pretty easy for her to pick out why the team fell short of its postseason goals.
To Morgan it was a matter of consistency, or rather the occasional lack of it that kept the Vikings from reaching the NCAA Division II Far West Region Tournament for a second straight season.
Morgan, though, is also convinced that won't be a problem for the Vikings again this fall. With seven starters returning and arguably the best group of defenders in the league, Western is ready to make a run at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference title.
More importantly, the Vikings seem poised to reach the postseason for the second time in the last three seasons. It would also be just the second time since joining the NCAA ranks 10 years ago that the women's program has made the playoffs.
"The games that we lost, we really weren't completely out of," Morgan said in a phone interview. "Looking back we had our chances, we just needed to be a little more consistent in our play. We weren't always as intense as we probably needed to be and I think we'll learn from that."
Western will certainly have plenty to build around. Five of its top seven scorers return, including its two leading goal scorers in Morgan and Lucy Miller, and assists leaders Morgan and Kelly Irving.
"The women's team returns some real key players," WWU coach Travis Connell said. "We have some real proven leadership returning this season, and that makes me more comfortable as a coach. That kind of leadership will help us get through the ups and downs of the season."
The Vikings' biggest strength will be its defense which comes back basically intact after holding opponents to just 0.82 goals a contest. Katie Warner and Brynn Regan lead the group, and there's good depth around them.
"Our defense during practice is as tough as any team we play against," Morgan said. "They are just so solid. We know we are going be in games because of that group."
While Western's defense will be the foundation for this team, it's the offense's production that could prove to be the most important piece of the puzzle for the Vikings. Western finished tied for third in the conference with 37 goals scored last season and that will have to improve.
"Our defense is definitely our strength," Connell said. "What we need to do is find a way to score more goals. If our offense can find a way to do that, we'll be in good shape."
A lot of that responsibility will fall to Morgan, who paced WWU with 24 points last season. Once again, she'll be asked to be the dominant scorer and a key distributer. It's a role she's never shied away from.
"Claire is in the best shape of her career," Connell said. "A lot of our attack will be determined by her performance and she's looked great in practice."
The other thing Western would like to do this season is get a win against a top-tier team. Last season the Vikings went winless against the teams ranked above them in the regional poll. If that happens again it could be tough to qualify for postseason play.
"We have to play better in the big games this season," Connell said. "Our schedule is tougher this season and I think just the experience of playing in those games last season and talking about them is going to help. This is going to be our most challenging season, but what that does is give us more opportunity to have those big games."
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