August 25, 2012

Wheaton (Ill.) women's soccer preview

As the Wheaton College women’s soccer team walked off the field last December, their senior class departed with an impressive list of accomplishments. The group compiled a four-year record of 82-12-8 (.843 winning percentage), earned two berths in the NCAA Division III Championship game, and had the National Player of the Year spearheading the offense.

Six starting spots are now up for grabs heading into the 2012 season. Despite some uncertainty, Head Coach Pete Felske is ready to reload and continue the Thunder’s winning tradition.

“I don’t really know what to expect,” Felske said. “I know we’ve lost a large and talented group of seniors.  But we return a good number of experienced players, and I'm very excited about the new players we have coming in. If we can incorporate the young players quickly into what we do, we’ll be right back where we should be – which is nationally competitive, fighting for conference and National Championships.”

Wheaton wrote another chapter of postseason excellence in 2011 with its 15th-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Thunder went 23-2-2 on the year and advanced to the National Championship game, taking second to Messiah College. A number of seniors capped stellar careers along the way. Forward Jaime Orewiler (15 goals, 16 assists in 2011) was named NSCAA Division III Player of the Year. She finished with 127 career points, which ranks sixth in school history. Forward Ali Kopelman ended up ranked No. 8 in career points (111) while midfielder Katelyn Kishkunas ranked fourth on Wheaton's career assists list.

There are questions marks in the starting lineup, including the offensive side for the Thunder. “We’re going to be faster, more athletic, and we’re going to push the pace even more than we already do,” Felske said. “No one player is going to be able to replace Jaime Orewiler. We have a talented group of new players coming in that will be able to step in and play her position. But what she did from an offensive and defensive standpoint, covering as much of the field as she did, I don’t think there’s any one player that will be able to do that for us. We’ll find out what our best combination of players is and put them out there.”

Anna Seabolt

Two leaders of the attack will be All-American selection Keri Shannon (13 goals, 13 assists) and sophomore Anna Seabolt (PICTURED RIGHT) (14 goals, 2 assists).  Shannon, the senior midfielder, broke out as the team’s second leading scorer in 2011 and will be expected to increase her output this year.  Seabolt, Wheaton’s third-leading scorer last year as a freshman, will once again be called upon to score goals, but could also be asked to play defense as well.

“Keri has grown tremendously the last couple of years in her confidence and ability,” Felske stated. “But more importantly, she’s been a real leader on our team spiritually, both on and off the field. We’re going to need her even more this year. She’s the veteran in the midfield, leading us. She’ll be expected to do that at an even higher level, and I’m very confident that she will fulfill that role.”

“Anna [Seabolt] came in last year and took everyone by surprise.  She has an upbeat attitude and spirit, and though she’s a natural defender, she’s very quick and has a knack for scoring goals, so we moved her up front.  However, with the loss of a couple of key outside backs, who knows what will happen?  If we need her, she may see time back there.  She doesn’t care where she plays as long as she’s helping the team.”

Val Lelle

Val Lelle (PICTURED LEFT) (5 goals, 8 assists) is a returning starter at outside right midfielder. Felske said he also has high hopes for sophomore Annie Hamilton (2 goals, 1 assist) on the opposite side of Lelle, as well as Sarah Guidera up front.  “Val, with three years of experience now, has grown in confidence and I look for her senior season to be her best yet,” said Felske. “Both Annie and Sarah saw time in reserve roles last year, but had strong spring seasons for us and look to make even greater impacts for us as sophomores.”

The defensive side of the ball received a boost with the return of defender Laura Karsten (5 goals, 1 assist). The two-time All-American is using a fifth year of eligibility after missing her sophomore year with an injury.

“I encouraged Karsten to come back for a couple of reasons,” Felske said. “First, you only get this opportunity once in your life. She’ll never play college soccer again and it’s fun, exciting and you make great relationships. Plus, she'll have the unique opportunity of playing with her sister who is joining us a freshman. Second, we need her.  She’s a real, down-to-earth player. She doesn’t get too high or too low emotionally. She plays consistent soccer at a very high level. The players and the coaching staff look for her to be a steadying influence during practice and games.”

Amanda Brait

Another key returner on defense is sweeper Amanda Brait (PICTURED RIGHT) (2 assists). Brait was the team’s defensive anchor her freshman season, but she only played six games last year due to injury.

“It’s great to have Amanda back,” Felske said. “Our team plays better, and more confidently, when she’s on the field. She’s smart and talented and we can afford to take more chances offensively and make more mistakes when she’s in the lineup. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but our players will be more aggressive with her back there. The defense will look different.  Jennifer Lee, Shelby Anthony and Megan Campbell are experienced defenders who have, at one time or another, all played and started in the back. All three will be called upon to fill the vacancies left behind.”

Goalkeeper is one position stocked with experience. Senior Hilary Barreto (PICTURED LEFT) (7-1-0 record, 0.79 GAA) and sophomore Kelsey Graham (15-1-2 record, 0.68 GAA) look to resume their shared role between the pipes. Both players alternated games and even halves throughout last year, a strategy that Felske has grown comfortable with over the years.

Hilary Barreto

“Both of them understand that the situation they were in last year could repeat itself,” Felske said. “I’m okay rotating goalkeepers. These two have abilities that complement each other. They're both confident, extremely competent, and the competition forces the best out of each of them.  But I don’t foresee that situation changing a whole lot this year unless one of them really steps up and does something extraordinary.”

A large crop of new players has Felske excited. The veteran coach foresees five or six players that could be major contributors from day one with another three or four earning significant playing time off the bench.

Annie Wooldridge is a freshman from Colorado Springs who is very technically sound, skilled, smart, and extremely humble,” Felske said. “She’ll make an impact for us right away. Ally Witt is an athletic forward from Wheaton Academy who has some of the same competitive spirit on the field that Taryne Lee showed during her career here at Wheaton. I love her competitiveness, her knack for scoring goals, and I think she’ll help us up front right away as well. I’m also high on Rachel Karsten. Having her sister Laura here has been an advantage for Rachel; she's familiar with what we do and already knows a few of the players. She's a possession back who can get involved offensively as well.  Mary Pettit is a very talented player – an extremely intelligent, deft distributor with a high soccer IQ. Then there are the Sharkey sisters. Alexa Sharkey is a transfer from John Brown University. She’s a fitness fanatic; a hard-working, athletic, fast player with a year of college experience at the sweeper back position. She could help us in the back or up front because of her pace. Sydney Sharkey is an outside midfielder who could see some time up front as well. She’s a quick and skilled local player from Wheaton North High School who covers a lot of ground fast. Both are very capable of starting for us right away.”

Wheaton’s schedule will test the team right away. Six of the first nine games are on the road. It will give Felske an idea of where the team is and what they need to do very quickly.

“I like the fact we have two home games right at the beginning of the year to break us in,” the Thunder mentor said. “But then it will be trial by fire, getting a young team exposed very quickly to quality soccer at this level. I’m a little unsure about what 2012 will have for us, but I’m cautiously optimistic.  There are some teams out there that have waited a long time for us to have this type of season, where we’ve lost over half our starting lineup, including the National Player of the Year.  But we return a strong, experienced group and have a good number of young, hungry players who are ready to keep the Wheaton soccer tradition going strong.”

No contests today.
No contests today.
No contests today.