BY JUSTIN DWYER
After suffering a heartbreaking loss to Bowdoin College last year in the NCAA tournament, The University’s women’s soccer team looks to build on last year’s successes.
Scranton finished last year 9-7-5 under the helm of six-year head coach Colleen Murphy, and they won the Landmark Conference Championship for the third straight year.
The Royals will have to pursue that fourth straight Landmark Conference title without seven vital seniors who graduated last year.
The team still has 13 players who saw significant playing time last year, including forward Samantha Russo and goalkeeper Kelsy McAnelly. Seniors Russo and McAnelly were named all-Landmark Conference first-team members last year.
The women were ranked number one in the Landmark Conference preseason poll by the conference’s this year head coaches and Murphy said the team is comfortable with that expectation.
“We have been ranked the top team in the conference the last few years, so at this point I think we’re used to it,” Murphy said. “Having gone through with this in the past they understand that a lot of the other conference teams want to beat us, and we are really the team to beat for the last couple years.”
Murphy said the team’s expectation is to always win the conference and make the playoffs despite losing six starters to graduation.
“You know we were going to be a young team, but we try to keep those expectations high because we still think we have a lot of experience and we still return a lot of girls that are really strong,” Murphy said.
One of the more challenging obstacles the coaching staff has to face is integrating 13 first-year players into the team’s playing system.
“We usually have at least 10 freshman in a class and so it’s a little bit bigger than we normally have it, but it hasn’t been that challenging,” Murphy said. “I think it’s a good class, they are willing to put the work in and they have adapted pretty quickly.”
The women dropped their first two games of the season against Franklin and Marshall College and Messiah College, but rebounded Saturday and Sunday with back-to-back shutout wins in the Joe Bochicchio Classic at Fitzpatrick Field.
McAnelly shutout Lebanon Valley College Saturday and York College Sunday to bring her career shutout total to 25. First-year Christina Akalski also captured her first and second career goals in those games.
With four regular season games under their belt, Scranton is still adjusting early in the season.
“After two weeks or three weeks you start to figure it out, girls become a little bit more comfortable. We have a lot more younger freshman [and] sophomore players starting and coming off the bench so its going to take them a little longer to get adjusted to the system or new position then maybe it would in a veteran team,” Murphy said.
Murphy said creating a strong family bond is one of the keys for the season moving forward.
“Having a young team and trying to come together and becoming more of a family as we get further and further in the season, having a closeness there that they are going to be there no matter what. Just having fun too and enjoying the experience,” Murphy said.
The Royals’ next game is at 1 p.m. Saturday at Delaware Valley College.
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