Women’s soccer starts from scratch

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After enduring a difficult 3-14-1 season last year, the message to the women’s soccer team was simple: this year is a new beginning. And if the team’s start is anything to go by, that message has been heard loud and clear.

Through their first six matches of the season, the Blue Demons have posted an impressive 4-1-1 record, including a 2-1 overtime win over Dayton – a team that received NSCAA top 25 votes.

“Your start to a season is important because it gives the group confidence,” head coach Erin Chastain said. “It builds belief that this could be a special year. We’re excited for this group, but when tough Big East games come, you have to step up.”

Chastain, in her sixth year coaching the program, said the team didn’t need any extra motivation after finishing conference play 1-9-1 and failing to qualify for the Big East tournament.

“We don’t talk about last year,” she said. “The group was motivated to do better without me saying anything (at the start of the season). This is an opportunity for a fresh start and we’ve taken advantage of that so far.”

Included in the strong start by the women’s soccer team was a 2-1 win over Towson to open the season and a 3-0 thrashing of Ohio. In both instances, the goals came early as the team dictated the tempo of matches with strong starts.

The Blue Demons also out-battled a physical Valparaiso side to notch a 1-0 win before heading out on a 1-0-1 road trip. On that road trip, the team played 110 minutes of soccer in a scoreless draw with Wright State before taking down Dayton two days later.

Growth

Last season, however, did serve as an experience boost for team that welcomes back seven starters.

“Last season was a learning season for a very young group,” Chastain said. “There were a lot of tight games – overtime or one-goal games. We made youthful errors, but those experiences for the young players paid off at the start of this season.”

This season’s quick start has already seen a more mature Blue Demon side, and one that has greater contribution from different areas of the pitch. The team has notched six different scorers in as many games, while the play of the back four consisting of Ren Stoecklin, Sarah Gorden, Rachel Pitman and Kylie Nordness has limited opponents to just three goals so far.

Both Amber Paul and Natasa Radosavljevic have netted twice, while other goal-scorers include captains Kelly Blumberg and Ashleigh Goddard.

One shift in the personnel for the Blue Demons included moving Rebekah Roller from the backline into midfield. Roller plays as a holding mid for DePaul, enabling her to get more touches on the ball to recycle possession and start attacks. Roller also takes the team’s corners and deep set-pieces.

The play of goalkeeper Megan Pyrz is also noteworthy. Her 12 saves against Dayton earned the sophomore Big East Goalkeeper of the Week honors.

Individuals aside, the team as a whole is performing better, Chastain said.

“This group is more detailed and now understand you can’t take plays off,” she said. “They’re more focused. Having such a demanding schedule last year, they saw last season what we’re going to see this year. They’ve already experienced that level of opponent which has made them better.”

Big East

After missing out on the postseason last time around, the goal for this season is simply to return to the Big East tournament. For senior and captain Kelly Blumberg, there is extra motivation as she enters her final season.

“After last season was over, knowing it was going to be my senior year, I felt really motivated to not have another season like we did,” the midfielder said. “It’s a whole new team, a new season. We’re not focusing on last season, just this one.”

The road to the Big East tournament is never an easy one, and this season’s offering in the National Division should be no exception, according to Chastain.

“The Big East season is always tough,” she said. “All the teams are good and competitive. It will be about who gets the job done. Every Big East team will be scratching and clawing for wins, so no game is an easy win. They’re all tough, hard-fought games.”

Some of the key matchups for the Blue Demons will be home matchups against Louisville and Notre Dame in the final game of the season. The Cardinals finished first in the National Divison last season, while the Blue Demons fell in South Bend 5-1 to conclude the campaign. Other tough matchups include road trips to UConn and Georgetown.

Confidence

Although the schedule will be tough, the team is confident going forward due to greater contribution from every member of the squad.

“I think the difference between this group and last year is everyone can contribute,” Blumberg said. “Like MaryKate (Cicinelli) came off the bench to score the winner in overtime (against Dayton). That helps the players on the field when you know if someone needs a sub or someone gets hurt, the player coming in can get the job done.

“I think we’re a really good group this year,” Blumberg continued. “Everyone is really invested in the team. Overall I feel really confident in this group that we can get it done and qualify for the Big East tournament.”
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