Entering in his fourth season with the Royals, head coach Ted Erickson has high expectations for the 2017 women's soccer squad on and off the field.
Coming off a 2016 season with several highlights, like beating an NCAA Division I team and hosting an ODAC playoff game, Erickson looks to improve in 2017.
"The 2016 season was a positive bounce back from a poor 2015 year," he explained, "thanks to a combination of strong play and guidance from our returners, as well as our freshmen stepping in right away to contribute."
This season should be a continuation of last year so that the Royals can resume their climb up in the ODAC standings. After landing at the No. 8 spot in the ODAC preseason poll, the Royals are in a good place to improve.
The women have a large group of players on the roster who have had at least a couple years together. Previous playing experience and reaching ODAC playoffs has primed this team to excel.
"We defeated Hampton University at home, hosted an ODAC playoff game, and statistically we improved in almost every category," Erickson said.
Contributing to this success in a large way are the seniors. This year Erickson graduates his first class who came in and started day one with him.
This class has been an integral part in the development and improvement of the women's soccer program.
They started their freshman year with an 18-player roster and an overall record of 6-12-1. Their sophomore year, after a few setbacks, they finished with a record of 2-15-1. Most recently in their junior season, the women improved to an 8-10-1 record.
The eight wins were the second most over the past eight seasons, also with the most players on the roster since 2011.
"I've enjoyed watching this class grow into strong, confident young women on and off the field," Erickson commented. "A week doesn't go by that I do not speak about them and their commitment to the program, but even more important, to their commitment to the classroom and the excellence they have achieved."
Several of his seniors will graduate from EMU having earned a GPA of 3.6 or higher each semester. This dedication and leadership has created an environment of competitive play and academic success.
"We need them to use their ODAC experience to continue to lead this program back to be a top ODAC team, but to also show our younger players how we do things in the classroom and off the field," said Erickson.
He feels confident that this class has paved a way for a well-rounded, student-athlete experience at EMU.
Along with the senior class, the Royals return several key players for the 2017 season.
Other offensive threats include sophomores Laura Rittenhouse (Harrisonburg, Va./Eastern Mennonite) and Ariel Barbosa (Baltimore, Md./Towson). Rittenhouse led the team with 10 goals in 2016 and was named to the All-ODAC Third Team. Senior Amanda Williams (Millsboro, Del./Delmarva Christian) finished second on the team with six points, including four assists.
To compliment the talented group of upperclassmen, Erickson looks to his incoming freshman class to step up and raise the level of play.
"Our incoming class has mostly been year-round soccer players, whether through their club teams or high school team," Erickson commented. "They have played at a high competitive level; that experience with the addition of who we return could potentially make this season one of the best this program has had."
Overall, the size of the roster for the Royals will lead to a more dynamic style of play.
"Our depth will be something that helps us out, especially in a conference where so many of the top tier teams bring wave after wave of talented players into the game," Erickson said.
Eastern Mennonite has 32 players on the roster, the most compared to any other season.
"We are hoping to be more dynamic in the attacking third, and also tie up some loose ends on the defensive end so that we set ourselves up for better opportunities in tight games," Erickson explained.
Simply put, Erickson has good reason for optimism approaching the 2017 campaign.
Eastern Mennonite starts the season with a weekend home-opener, playing Marymount University on Friday, Sept. 1 and Ferrum College on Sunday, Sept. 3. The women are then on the road for the next seven straight games before returning to the EMU Turf Field on Sept. 27 against Lynchburg College.