SALISBURY, Md. – Coming off a successful 2011 season that included being crowned the Capital Athletic Conference champions and making an NCAA tournament appearence, the 2012 Salisbury University women's soccer team has not rebuilt, but simply reloaded after losing some of last year's top performers. Expectations are high for this year's team, which features more depth across the field than Head Coach Jim Nestor has seen in years past. With a tough out-of-conference schedule and an always-competitive CAC, the road back to the NCAA tournament will be a tough task, albeit an attainable goal.
This year's team features 14 freshmen, so this is a group that has potential for not only this season but for years to come. The squad has a solid core of senior leadership, with Casey Hafford, Erin Mooney, Sarah Pfundstein and Bonnie Sandone, along with backup goalie Melissa Orgera. With a solid nucleus and a bevy of incoming talent, the 2012 Sea Gulls' goal is to go back-to-back as CAC champions.
"We have a great incoming class, and with the veteran players we have returning, we feel strong right now and feel that good things are going to happen," Nestor said about his team. "This year's [upperclassmen] are following in the footsteps of last year's leaders and have stepped right in."
The Sea Gulls will need to replace Amanda Miele's team-leading 10 goals scored from last season and will look to Pfundstein to pick up her goal production, along with junior Colleen O'Connell and newcomer Jenna DeLetto, to fill the scoring void. Pfundstein, a senior from Crofton, Md., was second on the team last year with four goals scored. O'Connell netted two goals last year and DeLetto comes to Salisbury from Massapequa, N.Y., drawing high praise from Nestor.
"We have Sarah Pfundstein, who will be a senior and have high expectations for her," Nestor said. "Jenna DeLetto has done a great job in the preseason, as has Colleen. We feel good. We have a lot of depth up front this year. We've always felt we have good depth, but feel that even more this year."
Also up front for the Gulls are sophomores Morgan Brasch and Melanie Hitchens, another newcomer to the squad, and freshmen Victoria Luc and Logan O'Meara. Freshman Cassandra Scala adds depth for the Sea Gulls both up front and as a defender.
Salisbury has good returning depth in the midfield, with two seniors anchoring the middle third of the field. Mooney, a first-team All-CAC selection last season, and Hafford provide veteran leadership for Nestor. Juniors Kim Baldwin and Alex Gower return, bringing a steadying presence to the middle of the field for Salisbury.
"We have quality depth in the midfield," Nestor said. "We're still trying to replace Katie McMahon, who was a ball-winner for us last year, but we have Casey Hafford and Erin Mooney returning for us. Kim Baldwin, a veteran, is returning and we have high hopes for the group."
Joining this year's team are freshman Casey Arnone, Christine Clark, Julie Dannenberg and Kandace Racine. The four players should see plenty of playing time this season, providing valuable depth for the Sea Gulls.
Sandone is the lone upperclassmen lining up in the defensive third for the Sea Gulls this season, but will be joined in the by returning sophomores Jackie Holtzman and Jamie Hovendon. The back line features the greatest amount of new talent for the Sea Gulls, with five incoming freshmen. New to the team are Tabitha Brown, Heather Deamond, Keeley Dugan, Courtney Kos and Jackie Lambergman, with each vying for playing time.
"Bonnie really anchors the middle for us," Nestor said about his returning senior defender. "Jamie Hovendon could see a lot of time for us outside. We'll have a new player in the middle, between Keeley Dugan and Tabitha Brown. Both have looked really good so far for us. Heather D and Jackie H will be competing for time at the right outside back."
Returning for the Sea Gulls is sophomore netminder Michelle Conrad, who earned first-team All-CAC honors last season, as well as being named the 2011 CAC Rookie of the Year. Conrad will be backed up by Orgera and freshman Nya Dobbs.
Conrad had an outstanding 2011 campaign, becoming the first Sea Gull to be named CAC Rookie of the Year. The sophomore from St. James, N.Y., posted a record of 13-6-2 last season while shutting out five opponents. Conrad had a .774 save percentage and a 0.93 goals-against average in her first year at Salisbury.
"Having Michelle back there, along with the players that have come in, we feel really shored up in the back," Nestor said about his young defense and sophomore goalkeeper. "We also have Melissa Orgera back a senior, who expects to compete for playing time once she is healthy."
Nestor has put together a tough schedule for his Sea Gull squad, including a home date with defending national champion Messiah College on Sept. 15. The Sea Gulls face six other opponents that qualified for the NCAA tournament last season. Salisbury opens up the season with its first three contests away from home, before the home opener on Sept. 8 against Shenandoah University.
"We try to play the best in our region, to be battle tested by the time playoffs come around," Nestor said. "We expect to be competitive in every game, which will prepare us for the conference tournament. We have to come out with our 'A' game every game to hopefully get the top seed and another conference title."