MOC women's soccer preview -- Taking it to the next level
By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on August 24, 2005 2:00 PM
Improving from 3-15 to 20-3 and winning a conference tournament in any sport at any level seems like an impossible turnaround.
In fact, it was going into 2004 in NCAA Division II women's soccer.
Last year, Mount Olive College left its mark on the record book with the largest one-season turnaround in DII history. Since the NCAA women's soccer records began in 1982, no team had ever turned around by more than 111/2 games. With a squad that often had eight freshmen in the starting lineup, the Trojans improved their mark by 141/2 games.
Just as, or maybe more important than that record was the stamp Mount Olive left on the Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference. The Trojans finished 8-2 overall in league play after going winless in the CVAC just one year earlier.
They capped the banner campaign with a three-game march through the conference tournament at Belmont Abbey that saw them outscore opponents 9-2 on their way to capturing the school's first-ever women's soccer title.
Sure, Mount Olive returns a solid corps of player's from that team, including sophomores April Jacobs (All-CVAC, All-Region), Gina Dos Santos (2nd team All-CVAC), Heidi Philip (2nd team All-CVAC) and Kate Painter (2nd team All-CVAC), Emily Escolas and Caitlyn Wright. But, third-year coach Chris Shaw is quick to point out -- that was last year.
"We want to build on the successes of last year. We can't get caught up in resting on our laurels or dwelling on what we accomplished," said Shaw, the 2004 CVAC coach of the year. "We want to make sure we are still progressing ... take the program to another level. Everyone was real happy with last year, and we surprised everyone except ourselves.
"But, that's over. We are excited about the upcoming season."
Shaw has a similar take on the 2005 CVAC preseason coaches poll. One year removed from being picked to finish 11th and last in the conference, Mount Olive was picked second this year. The Trojans got 109 points in the poll, four points behind Belmont Abbey.
"Ultimately, the polls don't mean anything," he said. "We were picked dead last the first two years, now second, and that's great. We would be motivated if picked lower, but now we have to live up to our own expectations and prove we are worthy of the number two spot.
"It's not where you start, it's where you finish."
This year, Mount Olive will face a tougher regular season schedule -- traveling to take on Catawba, Florida Tech and Flagler, while hosting Wingate. After last year's success, Shaw believes strengthening the opposition was a natural progression for the program.
"We had had the 20-3 season, and saw we can compete at a higher level. At that point, we knew we needed to get some tougher teams on schedule," Shaw said. "You have to walk before you run, and we don't want to keep fighting an uphill battle. You have to be ready before you put the big dogs on the schedule."
Mount Olive's offensive totals in 2004 were nothing short of impressive.
The Trojans led the Division II in goals last year, scoring 95 in 23 games (4.13 gpg). Six different players scored six more goals and five recorded double-digit assists.
The leading returning scorer is Dos Santos, who finished with 20 goals and seven assists. Her goals per game total (1.47) was the third best nationally, while her points per game total (3.32) was good for fourth among the DII leaders. Dos Santos was used as an attacking midfielder last year, but may primarily play forward in 2005.
Escolas finished with 13 goals and 11 assists last year and brings tenacity and hustle up front. Also returning are steady midfielders Heidi Philip, who ranked sixth nationally in assists last season with 16, and Kate Painter, who had 11 assists. Philip and Painter finished with six and three goals, respectively. Jacobs, an All-CVAC selection and All-Region selection, added seven goals and 10 assists.
Freshmen forwards Portia Taylor, Lyndsay Brennan and Brittney Robich, along with midfielder Jessica Smoot should also push for considerable minutes on what Shaw considers a "much deeper" team.
Missing from the group up front will be Melanie Cobb, who finished with a school-record 28 goals with seven assists, and Lauren Slattum, who added seven goals and 11 assists. Cobb, along with Leah Stanley and Val Buchite, transferred to UNC-Pembroke for academic reasons and are slated to play soccer for the Braves.
Jacobs, Wright and Jessica Steffne, one of three juniors which comprise Shaw's first recruiting class, will likely anchor the defense this season.
Shaw also mentioned freshmen Christine Gallagher and Erin Marino as solid recruits to assist a Trojan defense that posted 11 shutouts in 2004. Shaw likes the foot-skills of both newcomers.
Two freshman goalkeepers, Ali O'Steen and Heather Ulep, are currently battling for a starting job vacated by graduate Heather Ressler, who is now an assistant coach.
"Our question mark is in the back. We lost a few and our goalie. We are young in the back, but talented," Shaw said.
"It will be a question of how quick they grasp our style of play and develop the level of confidence they need to be successful."
Mount Olive turned in the 16th best goals against average in the nation last year, yielding just 0.694 goals per game.
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