Last season was a magical one for head coach John Marovich and the Valparaiso women's soccer team, as the Crusaders won a school-record 14 matches and ran through the Horizon League slate unblemished en route to just the second NCAA Tournament berth in program history. Now, the 2015 campaign awaits the Crusaders, and with eight starters returning this season - as well as the top six scorers from last year's team - expectations are high for a repeat league title this year for Valpo.
Starting From the Back
Last year's success was highly predicated upon the strongest defensive unit in program history, a group which surrendered just nine goals on the year and ranked among the top-five in the nation in goals against average. Holding down the fort in goal was Sydney Galvez-Daley, who returns for her junior year in 2015. In her first season seeing playing time at the collegiate level, Galvez-Daley was spectacular, breaking program single-season records for GAA (0.43), shutouts (12) and wins, while ranking fourth in the nation in save percentage (.885) and fifth in GAA.
While Galvez-Daley was the only goalkeeper on last year's roster, Marovich had brought in a pair of freshman goalkeepers this season to push her.
In front of Galvez-Daley, the Crusaders return a pair of full-time starters and a part-time starter to lead the pack of defenders. Senior Jenny Fassbinder was a Second Team All-Region honoree and was also named First Team All-League by College Sports Madness, starting all 20 matches and playing the second-most minutes of any Crusader field player. The only field player to play more minutes? Fellow back Shelby Oelschlager - a Second Team All-League choice, the junior came off the pitch only once last season, that being in the second match of the year.
Sophomore Grace Rogers looks to step into a full-time starting role this year after starting 10 matches as a rookie. Over her 10 matches, Valpo surrendered just four goals and recorded seven shutouts. A number of other returnees who have seen limited action are taking aim at bigger roles this year, while the Crusaders also brought in a pair of freshmen in the back.
Controlling the Middle of the Park
The midfield is often where games are won or lost, and much more often than not last season, it was the Crusaders controlling possession and turning that possession into scoring chances.
Leading the way was the program's first-ever All-American, senior Rita Craven. Craven, who was named Horizon League Player of the Year in addition to earning NSCAA Third Team All-American accolades, tallied 13 points on five goals and three assists in 2014. Four of Craven's five goals were match-winners, matching Valpo's single-season record.
Fellow senior Sarrah Ludwig returns as well for her final season. Ludwig started 13 of her 20 matches last year and recorded the match-winning goal in the regular season clincher against Detroit. Morgan Manzke, the Horizon League Newcomer of the Year in 2013, returns after redshirting last season due to injury, while Lily Chetosky is back as well after seeing limited action as a freshman. TCU transfer Michelle Mottonen and three freshman look to crack the midfield group this year as well.
Finding the Back of the Net
It's simple - to win games, you have to score goals, and the Crusaders return a trio of forwards this season who combined for 18 goals scored in 2014.
Junior April Cronin paced Valpo in the scoring column last season, scoring nine goals and tallying 20 points - both of which ranked second in the Horizon League and sixth on the Crusader single-season charts. A Second Team All-Region and First Team All-League honoree, Cronin was named Horizon League Championship MVP to cap a stretch in which she scored goals in nine out of 12 matches.
Redshirt sophomore Vanesa Abad returned to action last year after not playing at Ohio State in 2013, and showed no signs of rust, earning Horizon League Freshman of the Year honors as she found the back of the net six times - tied for fourth-most in the league. Junior Robin Wenzel started up front in 18 of her 20 matches for the Crusaders last year, registering three goals and two assists. Three other returnees look to crack the forward rotation, as well as one freshman forward.