Momentum has been an ongoing theme for the Eastern Michigan University women’s soccer program as it looks to build off a 2012 season where most of its pieces are still in place.
Following an unfortunate 2011 season which saw the team finish with a 3-13-2 record, the 2012 squad rebounded to an 11-6-2 record, (8-3 Mid-American Conference), good for third place in the conference and the most conference wins in a season since 2003.
“We caught good momentum towards the middle of the year last year, so I think this group has really high expectations [following the MAC Tournament loss],” EMU coach Scott Hall said., who returns to the helm for his 15th season. “This spring, the team took their training to the next level because they realize what it’s going to take to achieve our goals.”
On offense, the Eagles will have plenty of the firepower that helped the team finish fourth in the conference in goals and third in assists, especially the lethal combination of the All-MAC First Team junior forward Bianca Rossi and the team leader in goals last season, junior forward Angela Vultaggio.
Rossi’s team-leading eight goals was good for fourth in the conference, while Vultaggio lead the MAC in shots per game (3.21). Senior Stephanie Clarke, who appeared in every game last year and netted three goals, will join the duo up top and make up the bulk of a formidable front line.
The heart of the Eagles attack will start in the midfield, where senior co-captain Cara Cutaia will look to build off of her successful junior season, one in which saw her earn All-MAC Second Team honors, leading the way with seven goals and eight assists.. Her combined 22 points lead the team and was good for ninth in the conference.
“I’ve been working on my game and fitness (while playing on two summer teams),” Cutaia said. “We have a very talented team and a deep bench, so I think we’re going to do very well.”
Joining Cutaia in the middle will be an array of experienced midfielders, including fifth year senior and fellow co-captain Megan Pedro, who started eight games last year.
Redshirt junior Chelsie Oddan and true junior Molli Krick will start alongside Cutaia and Pedro, while junior Martha Stevens and sophomore Ellie Tillar will come of the bench to supply some strong depth to an already experienced midfield.
“The scary part is that I think they can be better,” Hall said about his offense. “It’s now going to be getting everyone to buy in that it doesn’t matter who scores, let’s just score a lot.”
The defense left something to be desired at times, finishing in the bottom half of the conference in goals against average (1.17), but their 23 goals allowed was good for fifth in the MAC, showing promise to a backline which returns three of their four starters, losing the lone senior of the 2012 team in Jessica Thomas.
Junior Emily Dzik, who was an All-MAC First Team honoree, will be anchoring the defensive line after starting all 19 games a year ago.
“At first (as a freshman), I was a little shy and didn’t know my place, but since then I’ve worked on communication and direction with the whole team,” Dzik said on her anchor role. “Right know, we’re just making sure we are all working as a unit so we can make things that much harder for other teams.”
Dzik won’t be alone in the back, as fellow juniors Marisa Kozikowski and Hallee Kansman and senior Emily Kowalzyk will give the green and white experience on defense. Sophomores Julia Lombardi and Jennifer Bentley will provide depth into the defense.
The last line of the defense will also have some familiar faces as both goalkeepers from last season return for their sophomore years. Incumbent starter Jenna O’Dell was having a fine season for the Eagles, ranking second in the MAC in save percentage (.811), saves (90) and saves per game (5.62), before a hip injury forced her to miss the final three games.
“It’s such a good feeling (being back), it’s where I belong.” O’Dell said on her return. “I feel like the backline and I are like a little family, we have to be connected in order to do well.”
Megan McCabe will play backup to O’Dell again this year, as she filled in admirably for the injured O’Dell, only allowing two goals in her three starts.
The season begins for the team this afterooon at home against the University of Detroit Mercy Titans. Following the season opener at home, the Eagles hit the road for four straight matches, including three against members of the Big Ten Conference— the Ohio State University on Aug 25,the University of Michigan on August 30, and the Indiana University Hoosiers on Sept 6.
Mid-American Conference play starts Sept 27 against Northern Illinois University Huskies.
A calendar-circling bout takes place on September 29 at Scicluna Field as the Eagles take on the Toledo University Rockets, the team that knocked them out of the MAC Tournament a year ago on a penalty kick shootout.
“The loss has always stayed in the back of our minds,” Cutaia said. “Toledo is in the back of our heads and we will be going out for them.”
With a team full of experienced players and a hunger to succeed, Coach Hall has high expectations for the upcoming season and believes they have the potential to do something great.
“This group is excited to get out and play and know that the potential is there,” Hall said.
Follow Josh Dye on Twitter: @JDye1214