Aug. 29, 2012
BALTIMORE, MD -- Losing eight seniors from a team that broke 17 team and individual records would set most teams back in an effort to rebuild. But for head coach Leo Weil and the Johns Hopkins women's soccer team, the 2012 season provides an opportunity to embark on even greater heights.
Weil's goals remain the same: a trip to the Final Four and a national championship. While his squad has reached at least the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament every year since 2008, the 21st year coach believes a tougher schedule and a more physical team could potentially put the Blue Jays over the top in 2012.
Favored to win the Centennial Conference for an unmatched eighth-straight season, Hopkins is ranked third in the NCAA Division III Pre-Season poll - the program's highest mark in history. The team showcases just two seniors, but returns 11 players that played in at least 15 games in 2011.
The Blue Jays feature a strong mix of dynamic players that can play virtually all positions on the pitch. While its trademark defense will be strong, Hopkins has the difficult task of replacing the program's all-time points leader, Erica Suter, and forward Paulina Goodman, who collectively accounted for 35% of the team's goals in 2011.
The leading candidate to take the reigns offensively is First Team All-Centennial forward Hannah Kronick, who jumped onto the national scene scoring at least one point in the first 16 games of her career and finishing with 19 goals as a freshman. The versatile playmaker is a tremendous distributor, but will also be counted on to use her strength and speed to take on defenders in the attacking third.
Kelly Baker and Sydney Teng will also be options for the Blue Jays offensively, each having scored five goals in 2011. Baker has not lost a step since returning from ankle surgery in the offseason and is set to play for the start of the season.
Junior Pamela Vranis returns to the midfield after a breakout season in which she tallied a career-high 28 points. Described by Weil as the most complete attacking midfielder in the history of the 21-year program, Vranis is poised for another breakout season. Freshman Alaina Arthur has looked solid in preseason and will provide depth behind Vranis at central midfield.
Christina Convey will return to the outside midfield after a 2011 campaign that included five goals and six assists. One of the fastest players on the squad, Weil expects the junior to create havoc and take defenders on from the wing.
Teng, possibly the most skilled player on the team, will also see time on the opposite side of the midfield in an attacking role. Additionally, junior Amanda Yaccarino will start the season at holding midfield after a strong preseason.
The Blue Jays can expect to be stout defensively, returning center back Taylor Schulte and outside back Kylie Fuller to a backline which allowed just 11 goals in 22 games in 2011. Sophomore Emily Nagourney will likely pair with Schulte in the center, replacing two-time First Team NSCAA All-Region defender Jessica Hnatiuk. The duo is excellent at using its strength and speed to win balls and then distribute effectively to the midfielders and forwards.
Fuller and sophomore Jillian Lane are expected to command the outside of the defense. Both converted from the forward position, Weil foresees the pair to be extremely active getting forward on the wings and bolstering the offensive attack.
Currently battling for the starting spot in the cage are senior Meredith Maguire and junior Kelly Leddy. While Maguire has led the Centennial Conference in goals against average the last two years, both goalkeepers are great shot stoppers and extremely quick. Freshman Sarah Benett has also looked good in preseason so far, and will provide depth behind Maguire and Leddy.
Overall, Weil and the Blue Jays are excited for the season to get underway. A two-game road trip to New Jersey this weekend will provide an excellent opportunity for Weil to evaluate his team with premier matchups against #1 Messiah and #6 Emory looming on the horizon. The Jays play regional rival Messiah September 5 at Homewood Field and then travel to take on Emory in Raleigh on September 7.