Women's Soccer Prepares for 2009 Season
Aug. 17, 2009
NORFOLK, Va. -- The Lady Monarchs are just five days away from opening the 2009 women's soccer season with a game at North Carolina State University and have been working hard this preseason. ODU will be looking for its fifth trip to the postseason in the last six years as a group of new faces joins a strong core of returning players in 2009.
After graduating nine seniors in the spring, including six starters, head coach Joe Pereira and the Old Dominion University Lady Monarch soccer team will certainly be younger in 2009. However, Pereira believes that the youth movement could be a huge positive for the program.
"Last year we had a great run, finishing with one of the best overall records in school history," said Pereira, "but it's time to re-tool. We are very excited about our current group. We think that our key returning players have raised the bar as far as fitness is concerned and are very important to our success."
Specifically, the sophomore class will be leaned on heavily this year as vital returning players. Sophomores Victoria Johnson and Lisa Bernardini will be leaders on offense and defense as All-Rookie players in 2008. Johnson was the third leading scorer on the team and Bernardini was also a full-time starter on defense, leading to a team record 11 shutouts. Classmates Jocelyn Weidner, a midfielder, and Rachael Carroll, a defender, will also be important assets for Pereira this season.
One of the largest rookie classes in school history will join the talented veterans, with ten fresh faces looking to make an impact on the field. Bri Alvarado and Laura Bush, coming from the same club team in Cincinnati, will compete for the starting job between the pipes as ODU has no returning keeper, while Kelly Evans, Aubrie Ewell and Ashlee Coutu should provide Johnson with some help on attack. With a brand new goalkeeping tandem and depth on the front line, the Lady Monarchs hit the field seeking its fifth trip to the CAA Tournament in the past six seasons.
After posting the second best offensive season for a rookie in school history, Victoria Johnson will return to the pitch as the Lady Monarchs' top offensive weapon. The Norfolk native scored nine goals and added seven assists for 25 points last year and will look to improve this season. ODU did graduate its two top scorers, though, in Katie Watson and Shavon Knight. Replacing their production will be key for the offense this season.
"It's obvious when you lose Shivy and Katie, you have to find goals to replace. We have some very dynamic, very fit and very athletic freshmen this season," Pereira said. "We will create, we will be dangerous; the only question is who."
Johnson will have help from returning juniors Alyssa Pietrobono and Kelsey Williams, as well as sophomore Kaylee Scholl. The rookies will have a big impact too, with Evans, Ewell and Coutu all looking to make their presence known up front.
Two-time All-CAA midfielder Ashley Kukura will lead the pack in the midfield, with returning starter Jocelyn Weidner and seniors Jodi Knorowski and Kirstin Walker. In addition, three freshmen come into the fold to add depth.
"We will have the most depth in the middle of the field," Pereira remarked. "We will be very deep and very strong in the middle of the park. Our most experienced and versatile players are in the midfield, which is key in soccer."
Kukura and Weidner combined for six goals and six assists last season and controlled the offense and shape of the ODU attack. Knorowski and Walker, returning after an injury in 2008, both will provide a veteran presence. Newcomers looking for minutes will be Meghan Cozens, Gabrielle Carragino and Hallie Rogers. All three could easily contribute right away for Coach Pereira.
The defensive unit will be the biggest challenge for the Lady Monarchs in '09, as the team must replace three of the five starters from a year ago. All-CAA defender Elizabeth Brewster stayed on as a student assistant coach and will try to help lead a new core to continue to be as stingy as the team has been in recent years. Sophomore Lisa Bernardini was a constant threat defensively last year, starting all but one game as a true freshman and seniors Brittney Kortz and Saratu Dodo also return to firm up the defense.
"Losing three of the five in back requires rebuilding," Pereira said, "but from our spring season to pre-season this year, we feel very good about this group."
Senior Samantha Brennan will join classmates Kortz and Dodo on the backline this season, and sophomore Rachael Carroll will also move to the defense to help strengthen the unit. Newcomers Taylor Mertz and Erin Stephenson also add pressure to the upperclassmen for minutes.
After losing a pair of the statistically best goalkeepers in program history, the void in goal will be replaced by a true freshman in 2009. Newcomers Bri Alvarado and Laura Bush are in an open competition during preseason to try and take over the starting slot. The pair played together on the same club team prior to coming to ODU and will continue to push the other to get better. Bush is a two-time state championship goalkeeper and an NSCAA Scholar All-American while Alvarado holds her high school shutout record with 28 over four years.
Schedule and Outlook
For four years in a row, the Lady Monarchs have jumped to a superior start during non-conference action, including an 8-1 start last year. This year, the schedule offers a tougher look, though, and ODU will have to battle for another hot start. ODU drops a pair of teams that were not even in the Top 175 of the Final 2008 RPI and adds a trio all ranked among the best 75 teams in the nation at the end of the season. ODU added Arizona (75th), Arizona State (65th), and East Carolina (40th).
"It's a very challenging non-conference slate, by design," Pereira said. "We're young and we wanted to test them. We really wanted to test the mettle of this team early on."
Old Dominion opens in Raleigh against the NC State Wolfpack on August 21, coming off a season where ODU earned its first ever win over an ACC opponent. They will then host return trips for George Washington and High Point in the August 28 weekend before hitting the tarmac for a huge road tournament on September 4 and 6. ODU will fly to Arizona to face the Arizona State and the University of Arizona in a two-game road swing as part of the ASU Tournament. It is the first matchup against the Wildcats and the second against the Sun Devils.
The road trip continues the following weekend with trips to Liberty and ECU before coming home to wrap up the non-conference slate against Radford University and Loyola University (Md.).
The CAA schedule opens with the split weekend for ODU, as the team travels to Georgia State on September 24 and returns home to host UNC Wilmington on the 27th. Drexel and Delaware will come to Norfolk the first weekend of October, followed by another four-game road swing as the Lady Monarchs will face Hofstra, Northeastern, JMU and VCU, all of whom were in the playoff picture last season.
"The conference season will be the usual battle," said Pereira of the 11-game Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) schedule. Following the brutal road trip, ODU will host Towson, George Mason and William & Mary at the ODU Soccer Stadium to close out the regular season.
The CAA Tournament will be cut down to just the top four teams this year, with the number one seed hosting the semifinals and championship game. Last season, the six team tournament format came down to the final game and competition should be equally as entertaining this season around the league. ODU will not turn away from any obstacle this year, determined to playing young, free and fearless.