Randolph women's soccer season preview
LYNCHBURG, VA – The Randolph College women's soccer team in 2011 started out 3-0, the best start in school history. Unfortunately for the WildCats, they could only win two of the last 12 games in recording a 5-10 record on the season. Depth and finishing were two of the main problems that plagued the team, but 12th-year head coach Kevin Porterfield thinks those issues will stay right where they need to: with last year's team.
"Last year we had times when we looked very good," said Porterfield. "We would just go through moments when we would break down defensively, losing our shape in the back, and offensively we just didn't produce quite like how I thought we could have."
Much of that inconsistency came from the fact that in many games the WildCats were playing with only a handful of substitutes. This forced many of the starters to play the majority of the game, while other teams could keep their first group fresh. That could change this season, as Randolph boasts a roster of 20 players.
"It's going to be a huge key for us this year," mentioned Porterfield. "Having depth that can step in and maintain the level as well as giving some people a rest is big." Another reason the coaching staff is excited is that the WildCats have seven seniors, many of whom have been with the team for four years. Porterfield was fast to note that these players will not only contribute on the field, but also by helping the younger players adjust to the game.
"They came in as a very large class, and really have been our back bone over the last four years," said Porterfield. "I think they're excited about the players that we have added, but them being able to take on that leadership role has been big. Also, I think now more than ever the seniors are playing at their more natural positions."
During preseason practices, it was easy to see that the excitement and enthusiasm was pouring out onto the field. One of the seniors that stood out in terms of a leadership role was midfielder Brianne Roth (Yorktown, VA/Grafton). Roth played most of last year at left back and excelled, but she will move up to the midfield this year to help with the attack. She is very vocal and provides the team with someone the other players can count on.
Continuing to look at the midfield, Randolph will depend on the offense from junior All-ODAC performer Marielle Rando (Powhatan, VA/Powhatan). Rando has shown over her previous two seasons that she can score, and score in bunches. She has two career hat tricks, and is already in the top-10 at the College in points, goals and points per game.
"Marielle has primarily been one of our attacking players, but she'll move back into the central midfield this year," said Porterfield. "She sees the field well, and we're hoping she can open things up for our forwards."
Rando has played both midfield and forward over the last couple of seasons, but she will now focus on cementing the middle of the park and chalking up just as many helpers as goals for herself this year. Another returner in midfield that played a significant role last year is sophomore Melisa Rodriguez (Culpeper, VA/Eastern View).
Rodriguez is tough, physical and isn't afraid to play both sides of the ball, but still has the explosiveness to get up the sideline with pace. If her finishing improves, she could have a breakout season. Randolph will also get a boost in the midfield thanks to junior Elisa Otero (Chevy Chase, MD/St. John's) moving from back to midfielder.
Otero played all 15 games last year, and many times was the best player on the field for Randolph. She plays bigger than her 5-2 frame and is constantly around the ball. "Elisa is really the glue that keeps our team together," said Porterfield. "She was our MVP of last year's squad, and is very good at sorting things out."
Sophomore Anna Messier (Bedford, VA/Liberty) didn't play as a first-year, but has impressed at times in fall practice and will get time in middle. First-year Ally Ramos (Manassas, VA/C.D. Hylton) is another player that has looked the part in preseason, and will certainly get a shot to play at central midfield throughout the season.
"She has done a good job of distributing the ball," Porterfield said of Ramos. "Ally took ownership of that spot when she was out there, and she sees the field well." Her vision could be a good thing for a forward group that has a lot of potential.
Last year, the team's leader in goals was a forward, though it was not Rando. Then first-year Brittany Hammons (Newport News, VA/Grafton) netted six goals on the year, including Randolph's first goal against nationally-ranked Virginia Wesleyan in over seven years. Hammons is a burner, but in preseason drills has shown a workmanlike precision with her finishing.
"Brittany is a player that needs to score for us to have success," said Porterfield. "She had a nice first year, and with our team being shaped differently this year I think she could improve on those numbers."
Joining her up top will be first-year speedster Abigail Bullins (Ashboro, NC/Ashboro). Bullins will also play basketball at Randolph, but her quickness and speed will first be used at forward for the 'Cats. She should be able to get behind opposing defenses, and if her finishing is top drawer, Randolph could have a formidable tandem up top.
Another player that has always been consistent at forward for the WildCats over the last four seasons is Amanda Cooper (Canyon Lake, TX/Smithson Valley). Very technical and sound with her play, Cooper has given Randolph a ton of minutes over the last three years, and will also be a huge help to Bullins in her progression. Newcomer Kerry Licht (Stafford, VA/Stafford) and sophomore Erin Vasta (Woodstock, VA/Central), along with Rando on occasion, complete the WildCat attack for the season.
Moving to the back, Randolph will have the luxury of sporting four seniors that have started in their tenure. Kelsey Cline (Glen Allen, VA/Deep Run) has recovered from a knee injury in 2011, and that's good for Randolph as Cline was very strong on the tackle at right back. Caitlin Sheehan (Herndon, VA/Herndon) returns after a year hiatus from the squad, and will be someone the WildCats look for important minutes.
In the center back spots, Randolph will hopefully have a pair of seniors patrolling. Samantha Wittie (Canyon Lake, TX/Smithson Valley) has great height and a booming right foot, and Ashley Stevens (Leicester, MA/St. Peter-Marian) can play all over the field, but her foot skills and patience on the ball may fit a defensive spot best.
First-year Erin Carter (Vienna, VA/James Madison) brings an edge to the WildCats this season, as she is tough player that likes to get forward from the back. A useful outside defender, Carter will play a lot immediately in both the backfield and midfield. Senior Julianna Joyce (Mayaguez, Puerto Rico/Southwestern) and junior Chloe Tong (Eastern, MD/Wye River) also both bring good things to the defense as well.
Sophomore Christina Overstreet (Lynchburg, VA/Brookville) returns to the Hill City as a sophomore after going to Ole Miss last year. Overstreet is very athletic, and should see some time in the outside backfield. As with any defense, the goalkeeper can be its best friend and sophomore Hunter Gibson (Newport News, VA/Denbigh Baptist) returns to be that wall.
Gibson pitched shutouts in the first three games as a first-year, and still held her own during the tough ODAC schedule. Gibson has battled some injuries, but is training hard and looks like she can regain her form before the start of the season. Ashley Stevens will play in net in a pinch, though her best contributions would be in the field for Randolph.
Randolph's schedule sets up nicely early, as the 'Cats will play six of their first seven in the friendly confines of WildCat Stadium. Along that stretch, Randolph plays four straight home games including three consecutive league games to open conference play. The ODAC Tournament is open to eight teams, and spots will be highly contested especially with the addition to Shenandoah University to the league this year. SU won the USA South in 2011, and will be another top team to contend with.
"Our goal is to make it to the Tournament, and I think we have the pieces here to do that," said Porterfield. "The league is strong, but I have confidence that if we play how we need to, we can do it. Again, it'll be about finishing."
Randolph opens the season Friday night, August 31 at home against Ferrum College in WildCat Stadium. The WildCats knocked off Ferrum 1-0 last season, though FC defeated Randolph 1-0 in 2010 in Lynchburg. For more information, log onto the official home of Randolph Athletics at www.randolphwildcats.com. Don't forget to become a fan of the WildCats on Facebook and follow @randolphwildcat on Twitter.