Season Preview: Women's Soccer Set to Open 2012 Campaign on Thursday at Millersville
Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - Newark, Del.
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Coming into a new season, Wilmington University women’s soccer head coach Josh Ruggiero feels the excitement of opening a brand new athletic facility with a state of the art turf field will help revitalize the program to heights it reached during the 2010 season.
“We have a lot of returners which hopefully translates into success for us this year,” Ruggiero said, who will be entering his fifth year at the helm of the Wildcats in 2012. “But coming off a less than stellar 2011 campaign, we have a lot of work to make up.”
The women’s program welcomes back three of last year’s assistant coaches in Nana Akwasi Nyantekyi, Bryan Rudden and Amanda Davis, as well as welcoming an upstart coach in Derek Buckley. Nana will again head the offensive unit that averaged over one goal per game in 2011. Rudden will lead an experienced goaltending group, while Davis takes control of the recruiting efforts. Buckley will take over the defensive unit that boasted three shutouts in 2011, and is on the rise as a young coach after a stellar soccer career at William & Mary.
Ruggiero has a core group of returners in each third of the field, but his focus will be in the middle of the pitch. In an effort to better control the pace of play and hold onto the ball, Ruggiero will lean on returning starters Molly Taylor (a 2012 co-captain) and Ashley Kroll on the outside, and Penelope Fantis and Jordanne Hoesli-Atkins in the middle. Fantis is the lone All-CACC selection from last year’s squad, earning second team.
Another experienced portion of the field is going to be the back third, anchored by fellow co-captain Alli Williams who is coming off a medical redshirt season a year ago. Williams returns as a captain after starting in all 20 games in 2010. Also returning to the starting lineup in the backfield is sophomore Morgan Fraczkowski and senior Vikki Zipf. Junior Rachel Burley will compete for the fourth starting spot and contribute major minutes. Junior Monica Weil will not only battle for minutes on the back line, but also in the midfield.
The defense could be the deepest rotation for the Wildcats this season, as three more valuable starters could see minutes, when they return from the disabled list. Experienced starters Kory Webster and Sarah Lindler, as well as Division I transfer Katie Baker are coming off injuries from last season and through the preseason and will battle in the rotation when healthy.
Transitioning the ball from the backfield to the attack is going to a focal point for this 2012 squad. But once the Wildcats go on the attack, Ruggiero has a key, mixed group of returners and newcomers who know how to put the ball in the back of the net.
Returning to the top line is a former First Team All-CACC and Second Team NSCAA All-East Region performer in Brittany Rhodes. Rhodes was second on the team in in all three scoring categories last season, but won’t have to shoulder the entire burden on offense this year. Each coming off red-shirt seasons, newcomers Jenna Quaranta and Chelsea Grace will help dominate the scoring third of the field.
Quaranta joins the Wildcats after playing a year at Harford C.C. and Grace comes after playing two years at Burlington C.C. Both produced double digit scoring numbers while at their respective community college.
Victoria Vasapolli will also be a key factor in the attacking third, and has the ability to float from the mid-field to the front line, helping in all key facets of the game. She led the Wildcats with four assists in 2011.
However, it doesn’t matter how many goals the team scores if it can’t keep the opponent off the scoreboard and that is where veteran goalkeepers Amanda Walters and Liz Case will stand.
Walters is a three year starter in goal for the Wildcats, making 30 career starts coming into 2012. She holds a career 1.82 goals against average while making 200 saves in three seasons.
Case will return to her high school days as she was a starting keeper at Mercy High School after playing the first three years as a midfielder for Ruggiero. Case will also see time in the field, battling for time on the outside with Taylor, Vasapolli and Kroll.
“Our depth is going to be a challenge this year, but from what I’ve seen so far from this group the potential is through the roof,” Ruggiero stated on his 18-woman roster and a rash of preseason injuries.
Fantis led the team in scoring a season ago, putting seven balls behind the opposing keepers for 14 points. Rhodes added four goals and two assists for 10 points while Zipf scored three goals from the backline. Hoesli-Atkins and Kroll also tallied a mark for the Wildcats in 2011.
“What’s going to get us back to the level of the 2010 team is our team chemistry and leadership that has been here to experience the highs and lows of the program,” the head coach continued. “We have a lot of seniors that know what it takes to be at the top of the CACC. They want to be able to get back to that level and accomplish what no team here has accomplished before.”