WWU hopes for breakthrough season in 2012
Aug. 26, 2012
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
By ANDREW LANG -- THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
A converted set piece here, a different bounce there; the Western Washington University women's soccer team came oh-so-close to earning an NCAA Division II Tournament berth last season.
The Vikings finished second in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and posted an overall record of 10-5-3. Only one of WWU's five losses was by more than one goal.
It makes sense, then, that coach Travis Connell is placing extra emphasis on getting winning results in close matches this year.
"We left too many games as draws last year," Connell said in a phone interview. "We need to get more results in close games. If you can turn one of those games, you're in the NCAA Tournament. We were really close and some of that is the way the ball bounces, but you make your own luck."
The last time Western reached the NCAA's was 2008, when it clinched an automatic bid by winning the GNAC.
If the Vikings are going to make a run to the postseason, their defense figures to play a substantial role.
First-team GNAC all-star Jaime Arthurs returns to goal, along with a 0.55 goals-against average from a year ago. She allowed 10 goals in 18 starts and, as a fifth-year senior, has a wealth of veteran experience.
"Jaime has been an amazing keeper," junior Brina Sych said in a phone interview. "We have full faith in her. We have a little younger team in the back, so we'll have to work together to help (Arthurs)."
Although Western's projected starting backline has no seniors, every player has logged minutes.
Sych, who's played a number of different roles already in her career, gives the Vikings a "very important player" who can support Arthurs in goal prevention.
She was a GNAC honorable mention last year, scoring four goals with two assists for 10 points - the most of any returning player. Sych predominantly played midfield as a sophomore, but Connell plans to start her in the back to ensure Western's defense is stout to start the season.
Her versatility is a major bonus.
"She is a fantastic player," Connell said. "She's a very important player for us. She is versatile. She can score goals, and she can play just about any position on the field. Sometimes that's tricky. She's a valuable player, and players do need rhythm and consistency. One of our goals is to not move her around so much this year. We're probably going to start her in the back, but we are planning on moving her a little forward. Even in the back, she gets forward. Her work rate never stops."
Sych said bouncing from midfield to defense has its positives and negatives.
"Sometimes it's hard to get into the flow of your position when you're always moving," Sych said. "You have to change how you play according to the position you're at. But you also have a basic idea of how players play. When I'm at other positions, I know where others want the ball in situations."
Sophomores Katherine Miccile and Brianna Jones and junior Kayla Russ fill out Western's defense. Combined, the three made 36 starts last season. Diana Pollock and Melinda Hunsaker provide additional depth.
Western is hoping to duplicate last year's impressive 0.61 goals-against average. To do that, WWU hopes to control possession with its midfield - an area Sych believes may be the Vikings' strongest asset.
Former Bellingham High standout Kim Cooper should see plenty of time, along with junior Ashton Griffen. Joana Houplin, who tallied two goals and four assists in 2011 and is one of only three seniors, returns to her attacking midfield role.
"I think we have a really strong midfield," Sych said. "We have a lot of players who can play in the midfield, and we have a lot of different types. It will help us match up against different teams. Joana is a player who has a lot of experience. Delanee is looking good, and Catherine is very good and athletic. She can run forever."
Miles isn't the only player who's displayed her fitness during the first two weeks of practice. Connell said this year's club is the fittest team he has ever had to begin a season. He plans to use his club's stamina and athleticism to Western's advantage.
"We are going to be real hard-working," Connell said. "This is the most fit team we've had. It means they're motivated and put in that time during the summer. We need to keep better possession. If we can make teams chase us, that opens up the field. We're a very athletic team. We can use that to open up the game."
Kristin Maris returns as Western's biggest scoring threat. She had four goals last year and will be counted on to shoulder much of the scoring load.
"Kristin Maris will be a junior and will be our leading returning goal scorer," Connell said. "She has quite a bit of experience, and she's a person who can score double digit (goals) for us."
Connell said incoming freshman and former Sehome standout Jessica Bertucci has impressed so far. He said she scored a hat trick in her first college half during an exhibition game last week. Bertucci is expected to play as a forward or in an attacking midfield role.
"It's not the big games we have problems with," Sych said. "It's the games we're not super pumped about. We need to come out as a team, full force, every single game. We are coming back hard. We're not going to let ourselves miss out on the tournament again. We are going to have to play strong throughout the entire season."
Western's first match is against Chico State at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, in Chico, Calif. The Vikings face Hawaii-Pacific in their home opener at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6, at Orca Field on Whatcom Community College's campus.
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