July 22, 2002
2002 VIRGINIA WOMEN’S SOCCER OUTLOOK
The University of Virginia women’s soccer team is coming off one of the greatest seasons in the program’s history, and the general feeling is the best is yet to come. Despite losing eight seniors whose leadership carried the Cavaliers far into the postseason in 2001, the Cavaliers are optimistic as they prepare for the 2002 season.
Factors that will determine the success of this year’s team include the leadership of its four seniors, the nucleus of other returning players, the team’s depth and how quickly a large first-year class will make the transition to the collegiate game.
The Cavaliers boast a solid corps of four seniors in 2002. All four have made important contributions to the Virginia program since coming to Charlottesville.
Kelly Worden hopes to add to her reputation as one of the premier defensive backs in the country. In three years, she has played in 64 games and started 60. This season, she looks to become the third UVa defender to be named All-ACC three times in her career. She would join Tracey Kennedy and Karem Esteva as the only other Virginia defenders to do so.
Worden is a gifted player and very athletic. In addition to her skills on defense, she’s quick with the ball and can make people miss when she’s on offense. She is a two-time All-ACC and two-time NSCAA All-Region selection. While it’s hard to gauge the talent of a defensive player when looking at statistics, Worden was the stalwart of a Virginia defense that produced 11 shutouts last season and limited 17 of 23 opponents to 10 or fewer shots.
“She’s the most consistent player we’ve had since I’ve been here,” head coach Steve Swanson said. “I don’t think she gets enough credit for her individual defending and more importantly how she leads our backline. In my mind, she is one of the top defenders in the country, period.”
Other returning seniors include forwards Alyssa Benitez and Darci Borski, and midfielder Meredith Rhodes. Benitez scored three goals last season in a reserve role and is very aggressive offensively. She scored the key second goal in a 3-0 win over Liberty in the first round of the 2001 NCAA Tournament right before the end of the first half. Benitez has nine career goals entering her senior season.
“Meredith and Aly have been key players for us the past two seasons and we will look to both of them to provide even more leadership this season,” Swanson said.
Borski suffered a stress fracture in her right foot prior to the start of the 2001 regular season and missed the entire season. She’s back at full strength and would like to add to her 52 career points, the most of any active UVa player and 11th on the school’s all-time scoring list.
“It was hard to lose Darci last season, especially right before preseason,” Swanson said. “We missed her presence on the field since she is one of those rare goal scorers who can turn very little into a chance on goal. She is motivated to get back on the field and we are looking forward to her return this fall.”
Rhodes was a top reserve midfielder last season who was very unselfish and able to create plays whenever she was on the field. She played in all 23 games in 2001, starting four.
The most important factor on offense will be to make up for the absence of two-time ACC Player of the Year Lori Lindsey.
“That’s definitely our biggest question heading into the season,” Swanson says. “It will be very difficult to replace a player of Lori’s caliber, but we have some excellent options in the center of the midfield.”
In the midfield, sophomore Jessica Trainor returns after being named to the ACC All-Freshman team last season. She competed for the U-19 National Team this past summer alongside first-year Virginia player Sarah Huffman. Trainor was named to the ACC All-Freshman team despite having only one assist at the time, proving that accumulating points had nothing to do with the level of respect she earned as a tough midfielder in her first year. She can score, but her strength is keeping the ball in as a center midfielder. She is a very aggressive player and with her versatility, almost plays as a fifth defender on the field. Huffman is a similar player to Trainor, playing as a defensive midfielder. Her addition provides the Cavaliers with a nice situation at center midfield.
Rhodes also looks to contribute to the Cavalier midfield. Rhodes started in four games, but played in all 23 a year ago. She is more confident with the system and will challenge for a spot at either the left or right midfield position.
Sophomore Taylor Wood hopes to expand her role in 2002. A pleasant surprise in her first year, Wood finished seventh on the team in scoring with two goals and four assists despite not making a start. She’s a versatile player who is good at creating plays on the dribble.
“Taylor is possibly one of the most underrated players in the nation,” Swanson adds. “She can create off the dribble, defends exceptionally well and rarely makes bad decisions. She had a great spring for us and will be able to play in the middle or out wide.”
Alison Lee should compete for playing time after a strong spring. She could add depth to the team after being hampered with injuries since transferring to Virginia from Columbia.
“Kelly is a winner,” Swanson said. “She’s strong in the air, makes good decisions and is excellent technically. I do not think she will have as hard a time as most making the transition to collegiate soccer.
“Nikki is a strong athlete,” Swanson said. “She has the skills and field vision that make her a perfect fit for the size of Kl?ckner Stadium.”
Noelle Keselica may also contribute to the corps of midfielders.
“Noelle has all the tools physically, technically and tactically to make a strong impact in her first season,” Swanson says. With four experienced veterans returning to the midfield and a strong group of first-year players, this could be a solid and versatile unit for the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers received a nice surprise on offense last season when Lindsay Gusick led the team in scoring as a freshman. She finished with 17 goals and three assists for 37 points, the second highest point total for a single season at UVa. Gusick also led the ACC in goals per game (0.77 gpg). The scary thing is she didn’t score her first goal until the sixth game of the 2001 season, which means she averaged nearly a goal a game for the 18 games she started. Gusick has the ability to be at the right place at the right time, and has a good feel for where to be to beat defenders and goalies to score goals.
“Lindsay had a tremendous year for us last season,” Swanson said. “Obviously she won’t be able to sneak up on anyone this season, but she has the tools and intelligence to continue to make things happen for us up front.”
The Cavaliers welcome back Borski after she sat out last season with a foot injury. Borski has 19 career goals, and with 52 career points leads Virginia’s current players. Benitez also returns after scoring three goals last season in a prime reserve role. Borski and Benitez provide the offense with leadership and experience.
“Alyssa is perhaps our most deceptive forward,” Swanson added. “She is capable of breaking down defenses on her own but she also combines very well with the other players around her.”
Junior Sarah Lane also returns at forward. She had 11 points (4 goals, 3 assists) last season and has great speed. She played particularly well during the 2001 postseason. In addition to being a very aggressive player, Lane is most dangerous with her back to the net as a set up player.
The defensive back line appears to be where the Cavaliers are strongest and have the most depth. All four starting defenders return from last season. In addition to Worden, the sophomore trio of Katie Bunch, Jamie Fabrizio and Gillian Hatch return after earning starting positions last fall. All three improved as the season progressed and were pivotal to the team’s success. Bunch, Fabrizio and Hatch were offensive players in high school and provided great versatility when moved to the defensive side of the ball in their first collegiate season.
“At the beginning of the fall we really had no idea that we would be starting three first-years in the back,” Swanson said. “They came together very well and played some of their best soccer at the end of the year. We still feel we can tighten things up more in the back and hopefully the experience that all of them got will pay off even more.”
Bunch developed nicely on attack late in the 2001 season and may be used in that role in 2002. She had three assists in her rookie season.
“Katie is a strong competitor who is very hard to get behind,” Swanson said. “We demanded more of her on the attacking side last season and toward the end of the year she was really making some great runs forward from the back.”
Fabrizio, the tallest player on the team, possesses a strong leg and is extremely athletic. She competes for the ball and when given the opportunity, can drive the ball deep to the offensive midfield. Her only assist in 2001 came on a 70-yard drive that Lindsay Gusick easily converted to a goal.
“Jamie is still learning, especially in terms of her positioning,” Swanson says. “She is a natural leader for us in the back and someone we will rely on a great deal this season.”
Hatch created problems for several opponents last season and has great cover skills. A very focused player, she’s naturally right-footed, but had no problem playing on the left side of the backfield. Hatch is as watchful a defender as anyone in the nation.
“Watching Gillie play is like watching a Mensa student at work,” Swanson said. “She can play almost anywhere and will never look out of place. Her skills and understanding of the game are tremendous for someone so young.”
In addition to the four returning starters, junior Missy Somadelis will compete for additional playing time this season. Somadelis is a proven defender who played in all 23 games last season and started four.
“Missy Somadelis continues to get better and better,” Swanson says. “She is a hard-nosed defender who also possesses a great touch on the ball. She gained an enormous amount of confidence last year and we are excited about her development so far.”
The Cavaliers won’t have as much depth at the goalkeeper position this year, but will definitely not be lacking talent. Jodi Clugston’s career came to an end last year after two serious head injuries forced her to stop playing. She played for the Cavaliers for two seasons. Junior Anne Abernethy, who originally was counted on to provide depth last year, was pushed into a starting role and responded admirably.
“It is hard to lose someone like Jodi particularly in a position as specialized as a goalkeeper,” Swanson said. “We will miss her presence on the field. Having said that, the entire team has a great deal of confidence in Anne. She came into her own last year and played extraordinarily well throughout the regular season and the NCAA Tournament. She is capable of making big saves and has really improved her distribution and foot skills.”
After Clugston sustained her first injury in the 2001 opener, Abernethy started the next nine games and helped the Cavaliers to a 6-2-1 record over that span. It was Abernethy’s first collegiate action and she responded to the challenge.
Abernethy also made a valuable contribution in the postseason. She played the second half of NCAA Tournament games against Liberty and William & Mary before starting against Cincinnati. After blanking the Bearcats 4-0 in the third round, she started at Santa Clara in the NCAA quarterfinal match and had three saves in the Cavaliers’ 3-2 loss. She made several other outstanding plays coming out of the net to grab loose balls against Santa Clara. Her teammates voted her the team’s Most Improved Player for 2001.
Redshirt freshman Erin Lycan is the only other goalkeeper on the roster. According to Swanson, she took full advantage of her redshirt year to learn and adjust to UVa’s system.
“We’re excited to get Erin back,” Swanson said. “She’s a technical player and only lacks experience at this point. We hope to give her some playing time this season.”
The future is bright for the Virginia program. UVa should have solid senior leadership in 2002, and the current juniors and sophomores all played valuable roles in the team’s successful 2001 season. The Cavaliers are versatile, experienced and have good depth.
“We are excited about the direction our program is headed and feel we have a great deal of momentum heading into 2002,” Swanson said. “We are looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead this coming season and feel with our returning players and our freshman class we have the pieces to make another run at an NCAA title. More than anything, though, we are looking forward to the day-to-day improvement that comes from working and learning together.”