By: Sebastian Barreto
The SFU Women’s Soccer team will likely be in for a tough campaign with wholesale changes taking hold throughout the lineup.
Head coach Annie Hamel acknowledges that a season of patience and adjustment with a heavily changed team is inevitable but remains confident in her squad’s ability. After last season, six senior and cornerstone players graduated from the program, leaving large gaps to fill in Hamel’s squad: former captain Samantha Donald, Katelyn Erhardsen, Jenna-lee Baxter, Allyson Dickson, Christina Dickson, and Tanis Cuthbert.
“It’s going to be challenging,” said Hamel. “We’ve already talked about being patient, we are back to teaching and coaching, whereas with the seniors it was more like management and cruise control.” There is plenty of talent in the squad, but a lack of game experience at the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) level may prove to be a harsh awakening for many unacquainted players.
Adding to SFU’s uncertainty is the absence of prolific striker Emma Pringle, the team’s leading goal scorer the last three seasons. Pringle, a maestro on the pitch, accumulated a tremendous 34 goals and eight assists since joining the team. SFU will be lacking considerable firepower at the top of the pitch without their formidable strike partnership in Pringle, who was lost for the season due to a torn ACL, and superstar Baxter, who graduated in 2018. These two led the entire conference in goals, shots, and shots-per-game last term, driving SFU to the semi-finals of the GNAC (Great Northwest Athletic Conference) playoffs. Pringle will be back in SFU colours for the 2020 season.
On a brighter note, SFU welcomes nine recruits to their ranks in 2019. These players usher in a longer term period of excitement and optimism despite potential challenges this season, the largest being inexperience. Hamel, however, is aware of the risk of inexperience and is prophetic about patience with her new group.
“I say this all the time,” Hamel declared while discussing her largely untested group.” There is no way to fast forward through it. You have to go through it, we are going to be young and we are going to make young mistakes. We are going to have to be extremely patient with their learning curve.” The recruits feature: one goalkeeper, Kelsey Fisher; defenders Doreen Anane-Bediakoh, Jenieva Musico, and Amanda Scott; midfielders Kiara Buono, Valerie Silva, and Giuliana Zaurrini; and forwards Savannah Bauder and Jazzi Paulson.
Coach Hamel expects a new formation to bring stability to the spine of the team and help new faces acclimate to life in the NCAA. “We have adjusted our system. So, we are going to be playing a 4-2-3-1. I think with the squad we have now, two is the best way to go.” The notable “two” which Hamel speaks of refers to two holding defensive midfield players shielding and protecting SFU’s four defenders.
When asked about her team’s strengths, Hamel pointed to her defence and goalkeeper. Both had outstanding campaigns last season, conceding the third fewest goals in the conference, and will be looking to replicate that form this term.
“I am really confident in our backline and our goalkeeper,” said Hamel. “I think our goalkeeper is the best in the conference, and I think she will be even better than last year. If we can keep the backline healthy and consistently playing, I think we will be very hard to break down.”
Goalkeeper Nicole Anderson started 15 of 17 matches last season, recording five shutouts. She made several fabulous saves last campaign keeping SFU in games and giving her team chances to secure points.
Coach Hamel also pointed to senior defender Carli Grosso as a leader on the pitch. Grosso, who was deployed as a centre back last year, is strong in the tackle and possesses aerial prowess. When asked about Grosso, Hamel said: “It is exceptional to see what she can do — the maturity she has about her game right now is actually really fun to watch. The confidence she has on the field right now is incredible and I say this because we have had two exhibition games already and she has been amazing.”
Expect midfielder Hollis Roeske to be a leader on the pitch. Roeske is a dynamic and intelligent midfielder able to pick a pass. Additionally, centre-back Emma Lobo is expected to fill a key role with her elegant style of play.
When asked about her squad’s goals this season, Hamel focused on the team returning to the playoffs. SFU’s women’s soccer team has qualified for the playoffs two of the last three seasons and are now looking to make it three of four. Coach Hamel expects fan support to help her team to a successful season.
“Everybody performs better at home if you have a crowd behind you right? We saw it yesterday [at an exhibition game], we had kind of a big crowd and some guys were cheering and the girls were starting to do things.” Hamel hopes this will be the case and acknowledges the SFU community has an important role to play in welcoming and spurring the team on this season.
The SFU Women’s Soccer team will kick off their campaign September 14 against the California State San Marcos Cougars with their home opener at Terry Fox Field September 26 against Central Washington University.