The 2018 season is a new beginning for the Case Western Reserve University women's soccer team. The Spartans are returning this season with a strong group of upperclassmen and a talented recruiting class to make a statement in the University Athletic Association.
Now in her 12th season, Head Coach Tiffany Crooks' squad has plenty of experience in place with seven returning regular starters and five addition players that started at least one contest in 2017. One of the returnees was selected to the All-University Athletic Association Team as the Spartans finished at 7-11-0 overall last season.
CWRU allowed just three goals through their first four games of the season, opening the year with a 3-1 record. Included in that stretch was a 2-1 overtime win against Allegheny College. Sophomore midfielder Abby DeCicco struck for the game-winning goal in the 96th minute of play, launching a shot from approximately 20 yards outs. The 'golden goal' was the first game-winning overtime goal for the Spartans since October 6, 2015, when former CWRU player Mackenzie Best struck for the deciding goal in the second overtime period for a win over Denison University.
"We had an up and down year," said Crooks. "We did some really great things and had a few games where we under performed. This year, even with such a young team, we're looking to be more consistent in our performances both in practices and games. So far, this group has been eager to learn and to study film. It's a very coachable group. Throughout preseason we've seen consistent improvements day to day."
Led by All-UAA Second Team selection in junior Kimberly Chen, she contributed a team-high five assists and scored three goals for 11 points last season. The forward also contributed two game-winning goals during the season, coming during the Spartans victory at Hiram on September 21st and against Wooster on October 3rd.
Defensively, junior goalkeeper Lauren Unterborn returns after finishing the season with a 1.59 goals against average. She started all 18 games for the team, recording three individual shutouts and 101 saves during her sophomore season as a Spartan, including 11 games with five saves or more. Junior Mary Kate Ford also played a key role on the Spartan defense in 2017, starting all 18 games during her second year as a Spartan.
Crooks also expects seniors Emily Dickens and Toni Alloy, and sophomore Bailey George to compete for significant minutes on the backline, while returners in senior Angelina Batty and sophomores Ali Sivilotti, Francesca McDonald and Megan Arumpanayil will have a chance to make an impact as well.
Offensively, eight different CWRU players scored at least one goal during the campaign, and nine players registered at least a point for the balanced Spartan attack. In addition to Chen, senior Melanie Kukura totaled eight points on three goals and two assists, while senior Maggie Tyma recorded one goal for two points.
In the midfield, junior Ana Petropoulos returns after totaling six points on two goals and two assists, while DeCicco and sophomore Emily Hauser each scored two goals and recorded one assist for five points. Also back in the midfield is junior Jennifer Markley, and sophomores Lizzy Barna and Abbey Dungan.
Crooks will be welcoming 10 other freshman to the fold with several expected to contribute this season. Forwards Ella Copich, Christina Hickson and Brianna Van Zanten are expected to see playing time on the front line, while in the midfield, freshman Taylor Bova, Greta Lazzara, Anika Washburn and Molly Whelan could all make an impact during their first season of collegiate competition. In addition, defenders Maria Prokos, Kat Rebele and Lizzie White should see playing time on the back line.
"We are much deeper this year in quite a few positions which has added to the on field competition for playing time," said Crooks. "We added another large freshmen class which has brought healthy competition and additional talent to our team. Even though we'll have some key older players on the field, the majority of our roster are freshmen and sophomores. This has brought a great deal of energy to the program."
The Spartans 2018 schedule opens with a road match versus Kenyon College on Friday, August 31. The team will then play its home-opener on Sunday, September 2 versus John Carroll University on DiSanto Field. CWRU then travels to Ada, Ohio to face eighth-ranked Ohio Northern University on Saturday, September 8. The Spartans will then get the benefit of home-field advantage as they play three of their next five games at home.
"I expect us to constantly be growing as the season goes," said Crooks. "That will likely come thru both strong and subpar performances. I think we're going to surprise some people, too, with our level of play and our ability to make some plays in big moments."
The UAA portion of the schedule begins on the road with a Saturday, September 29 match up against Brandeis University, who is ranked 25th in the NSCAA preseason poll. Following a non-conference match against Allegheny, the Spartans play a crucial four-match stretch at home against New York University, 10th-ranked Washington University, the second-ranked University of Chicago, and Oberlin College.
The regular season will wrap up with three-straight road conference matches, including the final match of the regular season against 11th-ranked Carnegie Mellon University on November 3.
"We have depth all over the field this year," said Crooks. "We have three strong goalkeepers to choose from this fall. A lot of talented defenders, a slew of midfielders with great ability on the ball, and we've added some natural attacking players to our front line. I'm really excited to watch us develop."