The Crusaders led all Division I programs in 2012 in goals against average, posting a team GAA of 0.51 and recording clean sheets in 11 of their 19 games. And Valpo returns the majority of its players in the back, highlighted by the final season for senior goalkeeper Kristen Manski. Manski set the Crusaders' single-season record for GAA and matched the shutouts record last year as a junior, and enters her senior campaign as Valpo's career leader in shutouts, GAA and save percentage.
Directly in front of Manski, the Crusaders bring back three of four regular starters, anchored by seniors Katie Gratzianna and Tara Ellis, who each started all 19 games a season ago. Also returning in the back is sophomore Jenny Fassbinder, who earned 13 starts as a rookie in 2012. The only defensive starter not back for the 2013 campaign is four-year starter Janine Lytle.
Finding the Net
While Valpo boasted the top defense in the nation in 2012, the Crusaders will look to score more in 2013, as they found the back of the net just 17 times themselves last season. Valpo will have to do it with graduated seniors Rachel Hoaglin and Luisa Desario, both of whom rank among the top-10 goal scorers in program history.
Desario paced Valpo in the goal-scoring column last year with four goals, but a pair of freshmen contributed three goals apiece and will be called upon to step forward offensively in their second seasons. Jordan Ryfiak earned 18 starts in her rookie year up front, while Sarrah Ludwig was a significant presence in the middle of the park for the Crusaders as a freshman. Another sophomore, Rita Craven, returns after starting all 19 contests in the midfield as a rookie as well.
A Lot of New Faces
15 letterwinners in all are back from last season's 10-win squad, but that leaves plenty of room for a lot of newcomers. Fans will need to make sure to pick up a program to put names and faces to the numbers of 11 true freshmen and one transfer.
The group of 12 newcomers hails from six different states, six of them coming from just across the border in Illinois. There are five forwards, two midfielders, two defenders, one defender/midfielder and two goalkeepers looking to make their mark in their first season as Crusaders.
Fans in Valpo will have plenty of chances to take a look for themselves at this season's Crusader squad, as seven of the 10 regular season non-league contests are at Brown Field, including five of the first six. The regular season kicks off Friday, Aug. 23 as Valpo hosts DePaul, while a home matchup with Northwestern also highlights the early-season slate on Thursday, Sept. 5.
The Horizon League will have a different look this year with the addition of Oakland, which won The Summit League title last season and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Also, for the first time, Milwaukee is not a prohibitive favorite in league play, as Detroit was selected preseason favorite. While the Crusaders were picked fifth, they were only seven points shy of the second position, showing that the league is as wide-open as ever in 2013.