Defense returns to save women's soccer team

Amherst has a bit of rebuilding to do this season as the top three leading scorers from last year’s squad have graduated: seniors Ashley Harmeling, Tracy Montigny and Adrienne Showler combined for 12 of Amherst’s 24 goals last season. “The loss of eight players will greatly change the team dynamic,” said co-captain Lyn Wojcik ’06. With the majority of those eight playing forward or midfield, the Jeffs will have to work on their offense this season.

“We lost a lot of offensive players, but hopefully the new recruits will fill in the gaps, some returning players will change positions, and the returning forwards will continue to perform well,” said forward Amy Armstrong ’07. Armstrong was fourth on Amherst’s list of high scorers last fall, notching three goals and an assist for the Jeffs.

But while the offense may be brand-new, the defense is experienced and solid as a rock. The Jeffs are returning all of their starting backfield, including defenders Wojcik, Kaitlin Hill ’06, Allyson Heady ’06, Margaret Chute ’06, Liz Foley ’07 and Heather Nowak ’08. Anchoring the defense is standout goalkeeper Piper Crowell ’07. Crowell finished the season ranked 22nd in the nation in goals against average per game with 0.57, and her .911 save percentage and eight shutouts both were good for second in the NESCAC.

“Our starting defenders and goalkeeper are returning to the team this fall,” said co-captain midfielder Sarah Coleman ’06. “With their experience in the back, we will be able to focus on developing our attack, so we can score more goals. We have strong midfielders returning as well. With only one returning striker, we may look to a freshman to fill the void up top.”

The Jeffs will also have new faces on the coaching staff. Joining Head Coach Jen Hughes are assistant coaches Montigny and Jacqueline Kendall. Though she is new to coaching, many Jeffs will remember Montigny as the second-leading scorer on last year’s squad.

One thing that will not change this year is the competitiveness of the NESCAC. “The conference is incredibly competitive, and, as we saw last year, anything can happen when NESCAC teams play each other,” said Hughes. “For example, last year the lower-seeded teams beat all of the higher-seeded teams in the first round of the conference tournament, and sixth-seeded Williams College knocked off top seed Middlebury College in the conference championship.”

“The first-place position in NESCAC proves to be up-for-grabs every season,” added Coleman. “Although there are stronger teams and weaker teams, the league is very tight, and every game is a challenge. We have succeeded at remaining at the top of the league in past years and plan to do so this fall as well by maintaining a high level of fitness and taking advantage of our team’s depth.”

To stay at the top of the league standings, there are a few key games for the Jeffs. “Williams is obviously one of our biggest opponents, but Middlebury, Bates [College], Tufts [University], and Conn. always give us tough games as well,” said Hill. “Having been knocked out of the tournament by Conn. last fall, we are definitely looking forward to that game, but every game in our schedule is a tough one.”

In addition to conference foes, Wheaton College usually proves to be a challenge for the Jeffs. Wheaton was ranked first in the nation for much of last season and was the only team able to defeat the Jeffs in the regular season.

“Williams and Wheaton are my favorite games,” said Crowell. “Williams for the obvious reasons, and Wheaton because we always have a great game against them.”

“We are really hoping to get a win against Wheaton,” added Armstrong. “They’re not our favorite team, and we’d really like some revenge.”

To be successful in these key games Amherst will have to focus on each of its opponents and take no one lightly. “I think after last year’s loss in the first round, our team has realized that we cannot look past a single team in the NESCAC,” said Coleman. “We definitely have the ability to beat every team in our league, but it seems to be a matter of which team shows up to play on any given day. We certainly have the potential to be very successful in the tournament.”

Though youth will play a big part in how this season turns out, the Jeffs are confident that they will do well. “We’re young, but we have a lot of potential,” declared Hughes.

The season opens at home against Trinity College on Sept. 10.