Expectations are high for the Valparaiso Crusaders as the Brown and Gold begins the 13th season of women's soccer.
Head coach Stephen Anthony returns 16 letterwinners, including eight starters, from last year's squad which posted the best winning percentage in school history. Anthony's team tied a school record with a 10-8-2 mark, and advanced to the championship match of the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament for the second time in school history. The Crusaders became just the third school in Mid-Con history to reach the title match more than once.
Entering his eighth season at the helm of the Crusaders, Anthony has brought in nine freshmen to compliment the returnees, in hopes of making a run at Valpo's first conference title in school history.
The Valpo offense should be quite dangerous this season, with three of the team's top four scorers returning. Meanwhile, on the defensive end, Valpo returns a pair of netminders with a great deal of experience and a backline that rivals some of the best in the Mid-Continent Conference.
In goal, Erin Murray and Danielle Guerra both have seen over 1500 minutes of action during their careers. Murray, a sophomore, was a Second Team All Mid-Continent Conference pick last year and set a single season record with six shutouts. Guerra, a senior, has started 17 matches over three seasons and sports a career 1.89 goals against average.
The Crusader defense is a stingy one. Senior Emily King is a three-time All Mid-Con selection, including a First Team pick last year. Able to create offense from the back, she finished fourth on the squad in scoring last year, tallying eight points, including three goals. Amanda Meyer also returns for her final campaign on defense. Selected to the Mid-Con's All-Tournament Team last year, she has proved to play a pivotal role since joining the squad in 2003.
Liberty Ziegahn has started 30 of 33 matches during her two years with the Brown and Gold, and works well with King and Meyer along the back. A Second Team All Mid-Con selection as a rookie, she will again look to continue to lead the team by example.
Sophomore Courtney Rahrig started all 20 matches for the Crusaders as a freshman, and with a year's experience under her belt, will be called upon to step up to an even higher level this year.
Valpo's midfield is led by Second Team All Mid-Con selection Allison Swanson. The senior led the Crusaders in scoring last season, notching six goals and 15 points. She tallied the match-winning goal three times. Classmates Kristi Dixon and Ashley Shaneyfelt will join Swanson in the midfield for one final season. Dixon has improved immensely since arriving on the scene as a freshman, adding key minutes to the Crusader squad last season. Shaneyfelt came off of the bench last season to add depth to the midfield. She has dished out five assists for the Crusaders over the past two years, and will look to continue to make an impact during her final year.
Lauren Cooper and Sonney Ziegahn both have gained a year's worth of experience for the Crusaders in the midfield, and will be asked to help out even more this year. Cooper bounced back from a knee injury two year's ago, and appeared in 18 contests during her first season on the field last year. Ziegahn joined her sister last season, and, after overcoming a leg injury early in the year, appeared in ten contests as a freshman.
The Crusader frontline has a great deal of firepower. Senior Lorna Torrez has found the back of the net each of her first three seasons, and looks to continue that trend in her final year with the Brown and Gold. Jen Bartels dished out a team-high five assists to go along with a pair of goals last year as a junior to finish third on the team in scoring. Sophomores Brittany Derksen and Britta Zewers each saw a great deal of action up top last season as freshmen, and will look to make an even greater contribution this year. Derksen started 16 matches and tallied a pair of goals, while Zewers came off of the bench and tallied two assists.
Anthony has brought nine new faces to the program this season, and hopes to have several step forward and make an impact. If they can blend in with the returnees, the Crusaders could have a team that strives on its depth.
Valpo's schedule this season is a balanced one. The Crusaders will play eight home matches at Eastgate Field, beginning with the season opener against Murray State on August 26. Non-conference foes Lipscomb, Indiana State, Youngstown State, and IPFW will also visit Eastgate Field this season. The Crusaders have several difficult non-conference match-ups on the slate, including trips to Central Michigan, Toledo, Northwestern, and Loyola (Ill.). Valpo also heads to Creighton for the Diadora Classic, where the Crusaders will face North Dakota State in addition to the tournament host.
The Mid-Con slate begins at home on September 18 against Western Illinois, with Centenary and Oakland also visiting Eastgate Field. The regular season concludes October 29 at Southern Utah, with the Mid-Con Tournament slated for the following weekend (November 4 and 6) in Tulsa, Okla.
The combination of experience players and a challenging schedule should test the Crusaders this season. If the right combinations come together, Valpo will be looking to contend for a Mid-Con title in 2005.