By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
For SU women’s soccer head coach Kwame Lloyd and the team, it was a tumultuous start to 2016 with a 1-4-3 non-conference record. The SU women’s soccer team rebounded that with a 4-4-1 non-conference record and an appearance in the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) Tournament.
Now in 2017, the team seeks to keep the ball rolling despite a depleted midfield with more questions than answers. It is the last run of things for a few ‘star’ players who will graduate after this season.
To improve on their 5-8-4 record from a year ago, the team and coach Lloyd are adding some new wrinkles to their tactical strategy. It was difficult last season to find that chemistry moving from the back to the front with many new faces in the starting 11 each week due to various injuries.
Lloyd is impressed with what he has seen from his squad this preseason and thinks they are ready for the challenge.
“95-98 percent of our team came back fit, so we were excited about that. The big talent coming through with some of our younger players is also very exciting. Our freshman and sophomore classes have continued the momentum and shift of talent we have here, and our upperclassmen came back fit as well,” Lloyd said.
“It’s been a really fun preseason. We did some things a little bit differently than the past.”
Senior striker Ruthie Lucas returns as a captain and one of the central faces of the offense. The Ellicott City, Md. native led the team with six goals and tied for first on the team with three assists. Despite her strong production, Lucas desired more from last season.
“Honestly, I don’t really think I had a great season last season. So, I’m looking for a lot more this year,” Lucas said.
Lucas is one of the knowns of this team and will be looked to for distribution and production once again. In 2016, she worked with many young, inexperienced players around her, but with one more year under their belts, they could break out in the 2017 season.
Junior midfielder Jenna Taylor and sophomore strikers Lydia Narum and Julianna Boller all return and are names to watch this season. Sophomore center midfielder Dana Gordon is also forecasted to get a major increase in playing time after only two appearances her freshman year. Lloyd believes the increasing experience can be a key to capitalizing on future chances.
“I think last year Ruthie and a lot of the other players were creating opportunities, but they were always thinking there would be another one. Now they look at every opportunity as a chance to change the outcome of a game. It’s a different mentality,” Lloyd said.
“I think we have a lot of young players and a lot of people that are just hungry for goals and want to get the ball in the back of the net. That’s been a big part of our training,” Lucas said.
One of the central struggles for SU in 2016, forming into only five wins, was the inconsistency of the offense. They were shut out five times and finished seventh in the conference in goals-per-game (1.53). At the same time, SU had four games in which they scored more than three goals.
A potential solution for the Sea Gulls may be a change in formation. Lloyd is looking to stick to a 3-5-2 formation this season. One that may play more to the squad’s strengths.
“We’re just utilizing what we have. We have good team speed in the wings. We have some creative players. Also, utilizing the forwards we have,” Lloyd said.
It is a formation that takes some players away from the defensive side, but the hope is that the talent in the back line will take care of business.
With so many key players returning on defense, this may be the strongest sector of the team entering 2017. Leading the charge are senior defenders Rachel Anderson and Jaime Tacka. They will see slightly different roles at times this season when utilizing the three-back technique, but they will stay as the center back duo while opponents are on the attack in 2017.
Due to defensive midfielders graduating, Tacka will take a more defensive midfield role this season while Salisbury is in possession. Anderson will be more of a lone center back in front of starting goalkeeper Hope Knussman. The new roles do not really phase the two.
“Before I came in, I played defensive-mid, so I’m kind of used to it, but it’ll be a little bit of a change to be thinking about attacking instead of defending sometimes,” Tacka said.
“I’m actually really excited. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the three-back at first, but we’ve been practicing it a lot. I’m becoming more and more comfortable with it and more and more comfortable instructing my outside backs where they’re supposed to be in certain situations,” Anderson said.
Anderson returns after starting in all matches in 2016. Her physical defensive style has earned her CAC Defensive Player of the Week in the past. She will be a key force trying to trim down a 1.22 goals-against average from a year ago alongside Knussman.
“What we’re really focusing on this year is making sure we’re preventing instead of reacting because a lot of those times there were crosses in and the back post might not have known to slide in and grab the ball or to stay and cover the man. It was a lot of confusion going on, so we’re really working on preventing goals instead of reacting to shots,” Knussman said.
The Anderson-Knussman combo may determine how far this defense can go in 2017. It is one combo that both players look forward to utilizing once again.
“It helps that Hope is back there because she has such a voice, and I know exactly where she wants me to be at all times. She has no trouble telling me where to be,” Anderson said.
Despite an 0-2 start to their opening weekend, the Sea Gulls look to rebound on Tuesday when they host Washington College (1-0) in an afternoon start in the Sea Gull Soccer Stadium.