SEASON PREVIEW: Soccer Women Set For Next Step

After missing most of her freshman season with an injury, Shaylla Oswald made 13 starts in 2017. (photo by Scott Eyre)
After missing most of her freshman season with an injury, Shaylla Oswald made 13 starts in 2017. (photo by Scott Eyre)

The young EMU women's soccer team is ready to make a move for the upper echelon of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference.

After earning a combined eight wins over the first two years of Coach Ted Erickson's tenure, the Royals have racked up 15 wins over the last two, including a 9-11 mark in ODAC play. The lineup, peppered with starting freshmen and sophomore recently, is deceptively experienced despite only two seniors. The Royals have been closing the gap with the top-level teams each year, leaving an enticing feeling for 2018.

Record in 2018: 7-9-2 (5-5 ODAC)
Coach: Ted Erickson (23-46-5 overall, 14-28-1 ODAC in four seasons) - Erickson has been a tireless recruiter for Eastern Mennonite, leading to winning percentages of .447 and .444 the past two seasons. The program has had just one higher mark (.526 in 2013) since 2008.

Season opener in 2018:
- at Marymount on Friday, Aug. 31 at 5:00pm, as part of the Marymount Classic in Arlington, Va. The Royals also play North Carolina Wesleyan as part of the classic on Saturday, Sept. 1.
Other season highlights:
- host Bridgewater on Wednesday, Sept. 26
- host the new club team from Mary Baldwin in a scrimmage on Thursday, Sept. 13, before their official home opener against Catholic on Tuesday, Sept. 18
- celebrate Senior Recognition on Homecoming Weekend, hosting Roanoke on Saturday, Oct. 13
- close the regular season at Washington and Lee on Saturday, Oct. 27
- have a favorable ODAC schedule, including hosting the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-seeded teams from the ODAC Preseason Poll
- do not play Lynchburg or Virginia Wesleyan, the top two teams in the ODAC, because of the unbalanced conference schedule

Career stats to watch this season:
- this is the 20th season in program history. Total record of 153-172-20 (.472)
- forward Laura Rittenhouse is currently No. 12 in EMU Career Points (16g-1a-33p) and needs four points to solely enter the top 10; with three points she ties Taylor Wenger for 10th at 36
- forward Laura Rittenhouse is currently tied for No. 6 in EMU Career Goals (16) and needs one goal to tie Audra Baker for fifth. Nora Osei is fourth with 28
- midfielder Rachel Sauder is currently tied for No. 16 in EMU Career Assists (6) and needs three assists to enter the top 10

Interview

SID: How would you recap 2017 in a couple of sentences, and how does that play into your team for this fall?

TE: Last year was a success for us as a team. Throughout the season we played several young women who played major roles for us and with the help of our ten seniors leading them with what we do on and off the field, we were able to finish the year 7-9-2 overall and 5-5 in the ODAC. We finished the regular season tied with Shenandoah and through a tiebreaker, we had to travel to face a very difficult Virginia Wesleyan team. Though we didn't get the result we wanted, those young players gained valuable experience as we move into this season and still expect to be a young team, but a team with ODAC experience.

SID: While the majority of your starters last year were underclassmen, you graduated a huge senior class.  How will you replace them, both in play and leadership?

TE: The biggest area that we will miss our seniors is in their leadership. Those young women were excellent examples on and off the field and reestablished what our women's soccer players do in the classroom, which is excel at a very high level. Though they will be missed, we are extremely excited for our incoming class. This group brings more speed, a desire to play behind the defensive backline of their opponents, and a lot of goal scoring.

SID: You remain a young team this year, although experienced.  How does that play into your expectations for 2018?

TE: Though we will be young, we are expecting another great year in which we decrease the amount of goals allowed and with this year's group, we expect an increase in goals scored. We anticipate a competitive battle during preseason as players fight for positions within our depth chart.

SID: Who are your key returners and what roles do you expect them to play this year?

TE: Starting up top, Olivia Dalke (Dallas, Ore./Dallas) had an excellent spring season and we look forward to her building upon that this fall. In the midfield, we are expecting Rachel Sauder (Lyndhurst, Va./Stuarts Draft) and Liz Huffman (Mechanicsburg, Pa./Mechanicsburg Area) to have similar seasons this fall as they had last fall as freshmen. On the back line, we are hopeful that Megan Breidigan (Douglassville, Pa./Daniel Boone) can have a repeat season, being extremely dependable and strong into each tackle.

SID: Tell me a bit about your incoming recruiting class.  First an over-arching comment on the group as a whole, and then mention a few individuals and what roles they might play in their first year?

TE: This group loves soccer! They all play with a large hunger to impose their will upon their opponents, whether that is scoring goals or defending. Several of our freshmen will play major roles this fall for us and depending on how preseason goes, our starting lineup could feature primarily freshmen and sophomores. In the attack, we're excited to see Hannah York (Richmond, Va./John Randolph Tucker), Makayla Taylor (Madison, Va./Madison County) and Chloe Weaver (Linville, Va./Broadway). In the midfield, we have Laura Troyer (Millersburg, Ohio/Central Christian) who will be coming in to compete for a starting role, especially the one left vacant by Hannah Walker. Finally, on the defensive backline, we are excited to have MacKenzie Ladd (Churchville, Va./Nelson County) join us. Mackenzie prides herself on being a strong leader out of the center back role and has confidence with the ball at her feet.

SID: Leah Wenger became your full-time starter last year, but you still have Emily Young on the team.  What do you expect out of your keeper crew this year?

TE: Leah did an outstanding job last fall and I anticipate Emily coming in and really pushing Leah for that starting role. We will evaluate each goalie during the preseason and make a selection that is best for the team - no different from what we do for the ten field players.

SID: Last year your team scored the same number of goals as they allowed, and the win/loss record was near .500 for the second straight season.  What will it take for the program to make the next step to a plus-.500 team?

TE: We must score more goals and that was a target for us with this recruiting class.

SID: What will the strengths of your team be this season?

TE: That is what we as coaches are trying to figure out during preseason. Our hope is that we will be a team that is looking to play more passes behind the backline so that we can have more scoring opportunities. Defensively we will remain the same, with our ultimate goal to not allow a goal each game.

SID: Overall general feeling of what 2018 will be for your team?

TE: Historic!