From the HCC sports desk:
The 2009 Harford women’s soccer team not only wants to win, they expect it. With only three players returning from last year’s squad, which fell in the Region XX championship game as the result of a shootout, that might sound like a tall task, but head coach Jason Muffoletto remains confident.
“We’re not looking at this year as a rebuilding year,” Muffoletto said. “We’re looking at it as more of bringing in some new life that’s hungry and that want to play and that are here to win. The players that came in are top-notch players and their expectations are higher than the players that we lost last year. The majority of the players that we brought in also came from winning programs, so they know how to win and they strive for it.”
Muffoletto added seventeen names to his roster for the 2009 season in addition to his three returning sophomores, including sophomore Kaylee Smith, a member of the 2006 Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference, Region XX and District H championship team which went to the NJCAA Division-I National Tournament.
“The leader of this team is going to be [co-captain] Kaylee Smith,” the coach said. “She was a leader and a key player on the 2006 championship team. Some people go so far as to say that she was the reason why we won that championship with her leadership and her skills. She’s been out for two years and now she’s hungry and wants it so bad. She has a good opportunity to become the first person at Harford to win two championships.”
Muffoletto also expects to see leadership from returning sophomore and co-captain Becca Bazemore, and sophomores Cortney Bush and Jamie Settle, who are all that remain from the 17-player 2008 team. “The players that are back are the ones that are leaders,” he said. “They’re the right players that came back and I have total confidence in what they do on the field and how they want to lead the team. I don’t think the [small number of returning players] will be an issue at all. The ones that are here are focused on the task of winning a championship.”
With his top five scorers gone from last year, Muffoletto was tasked with bringing in some players who could put the ball in the net and looks to be quite solid on the attacking front. Freshman Erin Lynn and sophomore transfer Lyndsie Ludwig will likely take the two starting forward spots, while freshman Beth Lambros will operate as a starting midfield/forward to boost the attacking squad.
Ludwig, a transfer from Wilmington University, comes into the program with a year of experience at an NCAA Division-II school and with something to prove. “[Lyndsie] wants to show a lot of people in this area and at Wilmington that she can play,” Muffoletto said. “I recruited her as a senior in high school and once I heard that she wanted to come back to the area, I knew that she was going to be the final piece of the puzzle. She’s going to contribute a lot for us.”
Lambros was a late pickup for Harford and was originally headed to Stevenson University, but will instead join Lynn and Ludwig on the attack.
“We have three great forwards that are just pure finishers, and that’s what we lacked last year,” Muffoletto said. “Any one of them would be difficult to stop by themselves and when it comes to three running at you, that’s going to be even harder.”
Along with the three starters, Muffoletto also sees freshmen Brianna Barmer and LaTashia Thomas and Bush contributing at the forward position. Bush will bring a year of experience to the group and also knows what’s expected of her and how things work in the system, which will allow her to display confidence and calmness when others might get rattled, while Barmer and Thomas will make an impact once they learn the system.
An attacking corps is only as good as its midfield, which feeds the forwards the ball and Muffoletto is confident that his midfield will be one of the best around. Freshmen Penelope Fantis and Hakima “Jet” Amerg will make up the center midfield and will, “serve [the forwards] the ball all day and will have a lot of assists because of the finishing power.”
Fantis will surely see one player as an easy find for one of her passes as she and Lynn were teammates on the Fallston state runner-up team last year and the most decorated players of the incoming class. The high-level experience of those players will make a huge difference on the field, according to Muffoletto, especially with Fantis in the midfield.
“[Penelope] is highly skilled and very calm in the midfield,” he said. “There’s no panic, and being calm in certain situations means that she’s very confident in her abilities; she knows what she can do. I knew I was going to have the forwards, but as good as they are, she is just as important because she’s the one who gets the ball to the forwards and she’ll probably score some goals also. She is one of the fittest players that I have ever seen. She can run for 90 minutes straight and just wear her opponents down.”
Muffoletto sees Amerg, who is also very skilled, bringing out the best of Fantis and the midfield as a whole. “Once they learn to work together and they figure out each other’s tendencies,” the coach said, “there should be no better midfield in this region.”
On the outside, Muffoletto will depend on freshman Kellie Zionkowski and Lambros for the halfback duties, though it may take some time for the unit to gel and fit into the system of play.
Lambros will essentially be used as a third forward, while Zionkowski comes to Harford as a defender but will be converted to an outside midfielder.
“Kellie comes in playing very high-level club soccer and that high-level experience is what we really have going for us this year,” Muffoletto said. “There’s going to be a lot of teaching going on this year, but once she gets [the system and style of play], she’s going to be very vital, very important to us.”
Freshman Kayla Siverd, who Muffoletto says is a bit of an unknown player and will probably be a surprise to some teams, will also contribute at the outside midfield position along with sophomores Erica Bizzell and Irene Barrett as well as Bush and Fantis.
“Kayla is a very smart player and we could easily play her in the center midfield, but with [Penelope and Jet] there, she’s going to be an outside halfback the majority of the time,” the coach said. “She’s smart, composed and knows how to play the game.”
On defense, Muffoletto should have it easy, as he returns two starters from last year in Bazemore and Settle and adds Smith to that group, who was a starter in 2006.
“We have three players in the back that are experienced,” he said. “They’ve all been to championship games and they know what’s expected. Kaylee has already been through the whole season; she’s been to nationals, she was an all-region player and she hasn’t lost a step. Becca was a key player for us last year and played almost every minute of every game and it’s going to probably be the same this year. She has the right attitude and she’s just smart back there.”
The third piece of the puzzle, Settle, played more of a midfield role last year, but will be called upon to be the stopper this season. “Jamie is more of a defensive-minded, tough, hard-nosed player that doesn’t mind scrapping it up,” Muffoletto said. “She’s physical and she goes in hard with everything and that’s what I like in a stopper role.”
The final defensive position will likely be filled by freshman Alexa Carlevaro, while freshmen Katelyn McPhee and Mary Czarski will also contribute.
“Alexa is probably one of the best defenders that we’ve had since I’ve been a coach here,” Muffoletto said. “She is a tall player and is good in the air both offensively and defensively and also has the speed and athleticism she needs to recover.”
McPhee came into the program as an unknown, but will likely turn out to be a key contributor. “Katelyn was a big surprise for us,” the coach said, “and she’ll be the first, second one off the bench every game. She has experience and is a very, very good player. All that experience on the field will help keep everybody calm so there is no panicking.”
The 2009 season will mark the first time in three years that Muffoletto will start a freshman goalkeeper and he has been spoiled recently with former player Jessica Stumpf, an NJCAA Honorable Mention All-American in 2008. With the goal-scoring power of his forwards and the talent that he’s brought in for the keeper position, Muffoletto doesn’t foresee a problem in the net, however, and will fill the role with freshmen Cierra Stinson and Alexandra Davis.
“Cierra can probably do the same things that [former player] Jess could do, the only difference is that we’re going to have a lot of forwards this year that can score a lot of goals so she may not get the recognition she deserves,” he said. “She played against all of the top players in the state while the keeper at Mercy and also has a lot of experience from playing club soccer.”
Davis was also a high-level club soccer player and will complement and compete with Stinson for the keeper spot. “She is very, very good technically; she’s a great shot blocker, very aggressive, and really determined to contribute and do well for us and for her,” Muffoletto said. “We have two good goalkeepers that are really going to push each other.”
THE BIG PICTURE
The Harford women’s soccer team will waste no time in moving towards its season goals as the Fighting Owls open the season against defending MDJUCO regular-season and Region XX champion Anne Arundel, who ousted Harford in the 2008 championship game by virtue of penalty kicks.
“We want to win the conference and the region, that’s the goal that the team set this year,” Muffoletto said. “Our expectation is always to win the conference and we don’t want to make it close this year. We want to go right ahead and outright win this year.”
The Owls have been to the region finals the past three years in a row, but have not won since 2006 and after coming so close in 2007 and 2008 really want to win one. “We’re starting to build a little tradition here,” Muffoletto said, “winning in ’06, losing to the eventual national champion with 30 seconds to go in ’07 and losing in a shootout, but outshooting the team in ’08. We haven’t won one in a while and now we want it bad.”
The Fighting Owls kick-off the 2009 season on Tuesday, September 1 when they host Anne Arundel for a 5:30 p.m. game at Harford Stadium.