NewsLady Cougars Look to Experience as New Season Unfolds
written by Dave Parsons, Sports Information Director
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio - With the 2006 season set to kick off for the Mount Vernon Nazarene University women’s soccer team, the Lady Cougars will look to the 18 returning players for experience as the team embarks on a rigorous schedule.
"One of the strengths of this year’s team would have to be the fact that we have 18 returning players from last year that includes great senior leadership,” said MVNU head coach Jonathan Meade, who enters his seventh season with a 90-39-3 career mark with the Lady Cougars. "We have also added a freshman class that instantly improves our team speed.”
Leading the way for MVNU in the new season will be senior goalkeeper Krysti Wilson, who is looking to finish off a stellar career with her best season yet. Wilson is a three-time NAIA Honorable Mention All-American who holds the school records with 25 career shutouts and a career goals against average of 0.91 that ranks ninth in NAIA history. Freshman Katelyn Pessia and sophomore Mara Hughes will serve as the back ups for Wilson until sophomore Whitney Tatko returns to the pitch.
The Lady Cougars have four returning starters in the midfield including seniors Allison Elifritz, Allie Warnemunde, and Lindsay Saulsgiver, who have worked very hard in the off-season to provide the leadership and toughness needed in the middle third of the field. Elifritz recorded three goals and four assists last season, while Warnemunde had four goals and two assists. Saulsgiver, who was an American Mideast Conference South Division Honorable Mention pick, also scored one goal.
The trio of seniors will be joined by sophomore Page Miller, who played in all 19 matches with 16 starts as a freshman and registered three assists. Besides the returning starters, sophomore Kelly Sgambellone and freshman Nikki Bruscino will add excellent quickness and speed on the outside. Freshman Erin Miller and sophomore Diana Flannery will add depth at center midfield, while juniors Jessica Pagano and Heather Ross, sophomore Bethany Watkins, and Pessia will add depth on the outside.
Defensively, MVNU returns juniors Samantha Tomlinson and Stacy Robey and Hughes to the back line where they helped post six shutouts last season and allowed just 26 goals in 19 matches. Hughes and Robey were both AMC South Division Honorable Mention selections. Saulsgiver also saw action in the back last year and could provide depth on the outside if needed. Freshmen Angie Misamore and Carol Thomas will make an immediate impact in the back line and improve the speed of the defense, while junior Molly Dible and sophomores Raquel Crocker and Amber Pagano will add more depth.
Up front, junior forward Kristy Brandolini returns to lead the scoring attack after posting back-to-back seasons with 20 goals each year. She was also named to the NAIA All-American Honorable Mention list as a sophomore and already ranks fourth in school history with 40 goals in just two seasons. Hughes, Bruscino, Sgambellone, Ross, and Watkins all bring solid attacking qualities to combine with Brandolini’s attacking strengths.
When it comes to the Lady Cougars’ schedule in 2006, MVNU will definitely be challenged each time out as eight of the team’s 18 regular-season opponents begin the season either ranked or receiving votes in their respective preseason polls. The Lady Cougars will play non-conference matches against second-ranked Lee (Tenn.) University, sixth-ranked Houghton (N.Y.) College, 17th-ranked Indiana Wesleyan University, 18th-ranked Berry (Ga.) College, 21st-ranked Ohio Wesleyan University, and the University of Saint Francis (Ind.), who received votes. MVNU will also take on Brenau (Ga.) University, Spring Arbor (Mich.) University, and Geneva (Pa.) College.
After winning back-to-back AMC South Division titles in 2003 and 2004, the Lady Cougars finished second in 2005 with a 6-1-1 conference mark. MVNU will look to challenge for the AMC South Division crown once again this year. 24th-ranked Tiffin University and Ohio Dominican University, which received votes, will also contend for the title, while Malone College, Urbana University, Cedarville University, Walsh University, Shawnee State University, and the University of Rio Grande will round out the conference schedule.
"We are definitely going to put our team play and mental toughness to the test this season with the schedule that we have in front of us,” said Meade. "We have always prided ourselves on playing a tough schedule, but I think we have taken it to a new level with this season’s schedule. The team and I truly believe that playing a tough schedule will better prepare us for conference play and the postseason. If we are going to be a national tournament-caliber team, then we have to play those type of teams and hold our own.”
"The season is not a sprint, so we want to show that we can continue to improve our play with each match,” Meade added. "Of course, we have specific goals along the way to reach our ultimate goal and that is to compete in the NAIA national tournament. With the challenging schedule and the leadership of our senior class, I feel that we will put ourselves in a great position to do this come November.”