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2017 UD Women's Soccer Season Preview
2017 UD Women's Soccer Season Preview
Christopher Rieman
Published by Chris R
08-14-2017
Smile 2017 UD Women's Soccer Season Preview

Every season is a new start for the UD Women’s Soccer team, but turning the page in 2017 is more like opening a new chapter. After two decades in charge, Mike Tucker put down the whistle and walked into the sunset -- but not before adding one last compelling footnote to his amazing and successful coaching career. Mired in perhaps the biggest funk of any team he ever coached, UD played their way into the A10 Tournament as an unsuspecting 7th seed and bulldozed their way to the championship in overwhelming style. Dayton shut out all three opponents and humiliated top-seed St. Joseph’s (PA) 7-0 in the title game. The Hawks entered the match 18-1-2.

UD went on to lose a close NCAA 1st Rd match to the Buckeyes in Columbus, but Tucker and his team made their point: don’t ever poke a stick at the bear. Despite finishing 9-10-3 -- Tucker’s only losing season as head coach – the late season surge made up for it and illustrated why his presence on the sidelines is irreplaceable. His 10 NCAA appearances, 10 A10 Tourney titles, 11 A10 regular season titles, numerous NSCAA All-Americans, and Top-20 NCAA lifetime winning percentage changed the culture of UD Olympic sports that other Flyer programs now emulate.

New Head Coach Eric Golz has the challenge of meeting or exceeding those expectations. A former Flyer assistant under Tucker, Golz revitalized the Illinois State program before returning “home” and leading the Flyers – he’s an Ohio native and met his wife Kailey at UD, so he’s uniquely familiar with the winning culture. He assembled a strong staff too. Mags Saurin has D-I head coaching experience, while Dean Ward and Matt Tipton bring Power-5 coaching experience and local ties to the area.

Golz brings a fresh set of eyes to a program that’s struggled to stay one step ahead of the competition in recent years. In the past, Dayton was head and shoulders above anyone else in the A10 and contending for NCAA at-large invitations, but other programs have gotten better and UD’s recruiting has slipped. The gap is as narrow as it’s ever been and while the Flyers are still a program everyone respects, perhaps the fear isn’t what it used to be. Opponents know Dayton has legitimate weaknesses now and have seen firsthand those nights when UD self-implodes with silly mistakes that were never part of the distant past. It’s hard to stay on top for this long and Dayton has managed it longer than just about anyone; no apology is needed. There were seasons where UD was so talented they could simply show up and handle just about anybody in the league. Today is a different climate however and Golz must rebuild the talent level and execution gap between the Flyers and the competition.

A HOLE IN THE MIDDLE

That won’t be easy in his first season. The graduations of All-A10 midfielders Libby Leedom and Erin O’Malley create a void on the field larger than a Florida sinkhole. Leedom and O’Malley struggled much of their last two seasons to find a groove (in part due to injuries), but in proper form the duo were among the best players in the A10 between the 18s. Both possessed big frames, strong feet, good vision, and the ability to hold off defenders and maintain possession. They also had moments of being excellent distributors of the ball, many times a result of winning important 50/50 challenges near the center circle. They were unstoppable in last year’s A10 Tournament.

Junior Keagin Collie might have the best chance to be the heir apparent, but it would be a new role for her -- a more assertive role -- as a distributing/attacking player that demands the ball. A wrestler in her prep days in Ontario, she has the size and physicality to replicate many of the things Leedom and O’Malley provided. Her challenge is becoming dangerous with the ball at her feet, improving spatial awareness/on-field vision, and making her teammates better. A central midfielder is the point guard of every soccer team. No matter how good the other talent is at other positions on the field, contending programs always have a dominating central mid. If you’re looking for a player that holds the key to the season in her Flyer cleats, Collie is at the top of the list.

Sarah Byrne spent her career in the back line, while Megan Blank moonlighted as a wide attacking player. Byrne missed her junior season to injury and never quite looked the same, while Blank battled consistency from one match to the next.

RUN RABBIT RUN

It took this long to mention Alexis Kiehl only because we wanted to make it clear that Dayton’s 2017 fortunes go well beyond her contributions – which were staggering last season. Returning for her senior year as the nation’s top scorer, the Kiehlster made a sophomore-to-junior leap in production and ability as impressive as any player we’ve ever followed.

Playing alongside stars such as Nicole Waters and Ashley Campbell in her first two seasons, we felt Kiehl was trying too hard to be something she wasn’t -- a target player with a bulldozing style that overpowered players. Finally on her own last season, it took Kiehl about 10 games to realize she just needed to be herself -- a bumble bee of speed and quickness and endless fitness that mentally and physically wore down defenders over an agonizing 90 minutes of constant pressure. Challenging every ball, back-pass, and goalkeeping touch, Kiehl’s head games eventually triggered mistakes and when mistakes happened she was there to take advantage. Her work in the 25th minute led to defensive fatigue in the 60th minute that earned her scoring chances in the 75th minute -- resulting in 21 goals on the season. To opponents, she was death by 1,000 cuts and wore players down to the nub of their concentration levels. Like Kareem’s sky hook, Alexis Kiehl has a go-to skill (persistence) others must always account for.

A MATTER OF BALANCE

If Kiehl is Dayton’s lone scoring threat this year, the music stops. Other players must step up and take pressure off the 1st team All-A10 forward or she’ll have double- and triple-teams thrown her way all season while opponents dare other Dayton scorers to find the back of the net. Without Leedom (10g, 6a) no other returning player scored more than two goals last season. That’s frightening. Kiehl netted 50% of the goals in 2016 but has even less returning firepower surrounding her as a senior. She needs help -- fast.

Sophomores Micayla Livingston, Caroline Mink, and Madeleine Morrissey netted two goals each as true frosh. All three played their best late in the year too -- especially the A10 Tournament. Golz must demand a lot more from all three players and one of them needs to score double digits.

Senior Sidney LeRoy – Mike Tucker’s granddaughter -- could be in the mix as well. She gives UD a physical presence up top and has a knack for manufacturing something from nothing. Pace of play must improve however to be a scoring threat running toward the box.

UD tried junior Quincy Kellett as an attacking player in the two exhibition matches with varying effectiveness. Without any career goals or assists however, it’s a blue-sky approach. If she turns into a reliable scorer this year, that staff will look like geniuses and Kellett will earn a heap of respect. Jordan Pauley is another option and has nine starts under her belt.

Keep an eye on junior Sara Robertson. She started only five matches a year ago in her first season on the field, but has made enough of an impression to earn heavy minutes in the preseason exhibitions. The staff sees something and that should tell fans something as well.

IN THE REAR WITH THE GEAR

On defense, the Flyers start with a pretty good one at left fullback. Junior Nadia Pestell, another Canadian import, is out of central casting -- so similar to many outstanding yet undersized outside fullbacks in Flyer history. What Pestell surrenders in size (5-4) she makes up for in speed and closing ability -- the latter being the most important part of the equation. Many fast players are “stopwatch fast” but can’t translate it to the soccer pitch. Pestell is legitimately dangerous however as a player capable of defending with pace or attacking out of the back line with booming dribble-drives up the touch lines. In preseason, she was UD’s most dangerous attacking player -– which is a good thing individually but probably not a good sign when digesting the offense from 30,000 feet.

The staff gave her some minutes as an attacking player in the first exhibition, but we prefer her in the back line where her sneak attacks are more difficult to slow down. She’ll never be a target forward because of her size, but she is a dangerous attacking player out of her own goal box and that’s where she looks most comfortable.

Junior Beth Kamphaus spent most of her first two seasons as an attacking player but struggled to be a reliable playmaker or scorer. She’s found new life in the back line as a central defender and as one of UD’s fittest players, should be 90-minute strong all season. Transitioning from offense to defense however is a mental challenge for even the best of players so it remains to be seen how she measures up over the long haul. Defenders must be supremely confident in their skill sets because a single mistake can cost a team a victory. Unlike attacking players that can be wrong 90% of the time yet heralded for the other 10%, defenders must be perfect on almost every touch of the ball. Kamphaus’ transition will be less physical and more mental. While up and down in the two exhibitions, we think she has what it takes and will get better over the course of the season.

Senior Abby Weigel might have something to say about it however -– if she ever sees the field. Gimped up with a lower leg injury, the 6-0 central defender’s rehab and return date is unknown. Her size and experience are a loss to UD’s back line. Until then, it’s Kamphaus.

Senior Nicollete Griesinger is a career defender with almost 40 starts under her belt, but injuries have been brutal to the Strongsville HS product. Over the course of three seasons she’s missed major chunks of two seasons and even when she did play was running on a bad wheel. Unable to keep her knees and legs out of trouble, she’s been a victim of bad luck as much as any player on the roster. Griesinger spent time in the midfield in the preseason and may be the staff’s preferred choice to work with Collie in the center circle. It would be a new role for her however. Pace and ball skills will determine how effective she is. Without any scoring experience, helping UD find the back of the net is unchartered territory as well.

Sophomore Hanna Merritt came on strong at the end of last year and is another option in the Flyer back line. The same can be said for Dani Ruffolo, while senior Kaitlynn Kiehl can also be utilized in a pinch. UD’s overall lack of size however limits some options everywhere on the pitch -– especially when the staff goes deeper into the bench. Sophomores Emily Trick and Allie Haddad will try to make some headway on the depth chart in their second seasons.

Junior GK Kaelyn Johns returns and appears completely patched up after a gnarly collision in last year’s NCAA game against the Buckeyes that required stitches to her face. She gives the Flyers good size in the box, does an excellent job of coming off her line to defend jailbreaks, and goalkicks are rarely problematic. Her only major crutch is concentration level at times -– the routine stuff in the box can trip her up when she’s not locked in. Case in point: in two exhibitions she bobbled a couple easy balls directly in front of the box and struggled at times with purposeful clearances, yet was brilliant off her line and stoned several one vs. one challenges inside the 18. As long as she stays focused, she’s good to go.

Sophomore GK Emily Jones backs up Johns but has yet to see the field.

HAS HELP ARRIVED?

Dayton’s incoming class has a lot on their collective shoulders. In past seasons, newbies had time to develop behind the numerous All-Conference upperclassmen. The contrast in ability among the classes is less pronounced this year -– perhaps less than ever. But that’s good news for every fresh face in the program. Each player has an honest chance to see the field if they can add something to the winning cocktail.

Olivia Brown, a 5-10 NSCAA HS All-American from Cincinnati, might be the safest bet to stand out early in the season. She started both exhibition matches in the central midfield and has a similar frame to Erin O’Malley. Brown was a prolific scorer in HS, but becoming a possession-holding player at the college level as a true freshman is rarely accomplished because of the speed and physicality of the game. She struggled a bit on both accounts in the preseason but that’s not necessarily a knock on her skills or potential -– she’s simply up against older players and forced to learn on the job. It took superstar Nicole Waters about 20 matches into her freshman season to “figure it out”. Brown deserves the same latitude before any honest assessments are made. She’s the kind of player UD needed on the recruiting trail.

Morgan Henderson (MF, 5-6, Bridgeville PA) and Kara Camarco (D, 5-7, Colts Neck, NJ), saw significant minutes in the preseason. Jotam Chouham (MF, 5-9, Caledon, ON), Emma Thomas (MF/F, 5-4, Moon, PA), Megan Rack (MF, 5-4, Milford, OH), redshirt freshman Alex Powell, and Mackenzie Kincaid (GK, 5-6, Noblesville, IN) will work their way up the depth chart.

SCHEDULE

The 2017 schedule poses some obstacles but is not overly challenging compared to schedules of the past. Still, it’s more than enough to trip up the Flyers based on our concerns.

The roughest part of the schedule is early in the season as seven of the first 10 matches are away from Baujan Field. UD opens the season at East Carolina on 8/18, followed by a short bus ride to UNC-Wilmington two days later. The Flyers open the home schedule the following weekend against St. Francis (PA) on 8/27. Marshall travels to UD on 9/1 before the Flyers go back on the road for three more matches against Purdue (9/3), Akron (9/8), and Kent State (9/10). The latter games are return matches of a home/home series.

Ohio University visits UD on 9/15. Dayton makes the short drive to Cincinnati for a match against Xavier on 9/17 to round out the non-conference schedule.

The A10 schedule commences on 9/21 at VCU, followed by a home match vs. George Mason on 9/24. The remainder of the league slate consists of @LaSalle (9/28), Davidson (10/1), @St. Louis (10/5), @St. Joseph’s (10/8), Duquesne (10/12), George Washington (10/15), Richmond (10/19), and @UMass (10/22). VCU hosts the A10 Tournament.

It’s not the kind of schedule that will generate NCAA at-large consideration unless UD practically runs the table. The season will ultimately come down to the 2- or 3-game A10 Tournament –- provided the Flyers qualify as one of the top eight seeds.

THE NITTY GRITTY

UD must get off to a better start this year and earn a few Ws before the conference season begins. Dayton started 0-4-0 and 2-6-2 in 2016 before finally gaining a head of steam, eking out an A10 Tournament spot, and capitalizing on their opportunity. Teams rarely end up anywhere good with anemic starts like these. Diabolical mental errors and inexplicable gaffs stunted UD’s chances in most of those matches; the Flyers could have won several of them but probably deserved to lose all of them. Something has to change this year.

One problem: this year’s team is less talented than last year’s team and the 2016 Flyers finished under .500 (9-10-3). Sure, some players will get better. But there aren’t enough dynamic difference makers up and down the lineup that strike fear into opposing teams and overwhelm with depth and experience. Dayton has two All A-10 players that play at an all-conference level every night of the season (A. Kiehl and Pestell). Goalkeeper Kaelyn Johns is the next most talented individual player on the field but she can only do so much in front of the net. Aside from these three players, the talent dropoff is pronounced and the graduation of Leedom and O’Malley in the central midfield -- without seamless replacements of the same caliber -- is highly problematic.

Even in the tougher years, UD had just enough star players to make the big plays and just enough role players to fill in the gaps. This year is unlike any other however. There are basic skill set deficiencies and playmaking bugaboos up and down the roster. A lack of overall team speed is undeniable. No one questions the abilities of UD’s best players but there aren’t enough of them. Many of the opponent weaknesses UD has feasted on over 20 years now plague the Flyers as well. When facing average teams with average ability on the schedule, Dayton may ultimately be looking in the mirror on game day and struggling with the same crutches that hold average teams back -- lack of vision, speed of play, off-the-ball movement, first-touches, and a proficiency in limiting the big mistake.

Then again, perhaps the Golz era is exactly what this team needs and a complete reset on the struggles of 2016 will wash away the concerns. If nothing else, we know A10 foes never count the Flyers out and we ask fans to hope for the best as well. But there are undeniable concerns and the 2017 Flyers must play to their potential every night to have a fighting chance -- they simply aren’t good enough to roll the ball out on the field and win with an average performance.

The rest of the A10 has caught up too. St. Joseph’s, St. Louis, GW, and VCU have All-League players capable of dominating the run of play. LaSalle can’t be overlooked either. The A10 usually gives the Flyers a healthy dose of respect in the preseason conference poll and we expect nothing different this year. But the devil is in the details and there are too many other teams with more balance, more experience, and enough star players to challenge at or near the top.

BOTTOM LINE

Dayton may have the best scorer in the league, one of the best defenders in the league, and a solid A10 goalkeeper, but there are eight other positions on the field and a bunch of spots on the pine that are accountable too. Major question marks are everywhere: ball-winning, possession, work-rate, and basic soccer vision to link passes together and keep possession of the ball under duress. The two exhibitions exposed UD’s weak points and the Flyers did not handle those moments well; it’s all we have to go on when projecting season potential.

It's Eric Golz’ program now, his system, his way of coaching and handling players and adversity. He needs time and so does his personnel. He also needs a couple recruiting classes to build the roster back up with impact playmakers that can contribute right away as true freshmen, blossom into All-A10 players as sophomores, and become national stat stuffers by their junior and senior years -- not just offensively but defensively as well. Dayton must re-commit to defending first and foremost in the manner they dominated the Great Lakes Region in the mid-2000s where anything other than a shutout was considered a defensive failure.

Until those things happen, fans should be patient. Question marks are scattered everywhere and the team’s ceiling is dependent upon the forthcoming answers. Getting a couple players healthy and back on the field would certainly improve their cause.

Dayton still has the culture of expectations and that’s not an insignificant footnote. After a standing eight count last year, Dayton got off the mat and threw a TKO in the conference postseason -- saving their year and also some Flyer pride. If adversity strikes in 2017, can they avoid the major pitfalls altogether and silence the critics?

PREDICTIONS
A10 Regular Season: 7th place
A10 Tournament: Semifinals
NCAA: None
__________________

C. M. Rieman | Publisher | 937.361.4630 | Get the latest here:

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  #1  
By The Fly on 08-14-2017, 06:14 PM
Excellent synopsis. It's going to take a while to see any real sense of cohesion out of this team, but it's still a bit depressing to see them picked seventh in the A-10. New coach, new players, new reality, but hopefully a season that ends with measurable progress so that the post-Kiehl era looks brighter than her swan song year.
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