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2018 UD Women's Soccer Season Preview
2018 UD Women's Soccer Season Preview
C.M. Rieman
Published by Chris R
08-13-2018
Smile 2018 UD Women's Soccer Season Preview

DAYTON (OH) -- The Eric Golz era got underway a season ago, taking over for long-time UD WSOC Head Coach Mike Tucker. Those were enormous shoes to fill and the job was more difficult given a roster of talent disparate from the one that took home the A10 championship a season prior. Any Flyer soccer fan worth their salt knew 2017 would be a major challenge and that’s ultimately how the year started and ended. Dayton took a month to get north of .500 and once conference play started the Flyers more or less traded wins and losses. The 4-4-2 A10 record was just good enough to punch their ticket to the league tournament on the last day of the regular season after a victory at UMass. But their 21st consecutive A10 tourney appearance was short-lived, falling to eventual champ LaSalle 3-2 in the opening round. If nothing else, the loss was by far their best effort of the season. They could have easily beaten the #1 seed Explorers on their home field.

Dayton took all season to play their best however because of inconsistency on both sides of the ball. Keeping teams off the scoreboard – especially early in matches – proved to be all but impossible at times as the team GAA ballooned to 1.40. Yes the Flyers did out-score their opponents on the season 33-28, but the offense was oftentimes too one-dimensional and the schedule lacked quality wins.

DEPARTURES

Golz’s second season may end up more challenging than his first. He lost A10 Offensive Player of the Year Alexis Kiehl (12g, 3a) to graduation. She was involved in almost half of UD’s scoring output. Kiehl was the lone striker every opponent had to account for; when she failed to score or had limited touches, the Flyer offense often sputtered and the results were disappointing. Perhaps it was an offense that relied on Kiehl too much, but had no choice in order to remain competitive and keep a modest amount of possession in the attacking third. Without her speed and foot skills to target the goal mouth with quick-strike ability, Dayton’s best weapon on a weapons-challenged team is no longer available this year to hide other weaknesses on the field.

Dayton must also replace MF Sidney Leroy and D Nicolette Griesinger – both started 19 of 20 matches as seniors. MF Kaitlynn Kiehl started four matches while D Abby Wiegel also graduated after a career-ending injury erased her senior year entirely.

The good news is it wasn’t a huge senior class. The not-so-good news is 11 freshmen join the team, making for an even younger and more inexperienced group than last year’s 9-9-2 squad. And without an All-Conference scorer to pull rabbits out of hats, things may get worse before they get better.

RETURNEES

Perhaps the best and brightest part starts with senior defender Nadia Pestell, a 2nd Team All-A10 selection last year who played more like a 1st Teamer. A terrific athlete with gifted speed, good instincts, and high-IQ reaction time to the run of play, Pestell has a chance to be the best defender in the league despite giving up several inches and 15lbs to most opposing strikers on a weekly basis. Her greatest strength however is affecting the Flyer offense; she loves to overlap with dribble-drives and cheat forward along the left touch lines for dangerous service in the box. She might be UD’s most important attacking player despite playing out of the back; her ability to transition the Flyers from defense to offense is invaluable. From what we saw in the lone exhibition at Baujan Field, it’s safe to say she may be the Flyers’ offensive and defensive MVP in 2018 – usually an unthinkable suggestion for a full-time left fullback. How many defenders led their team in assists (6) last year? Darn few.

Her skills to set up other players in the Flyer attacking third will be even more important this year with the lack of reliable game-changers in the midfield and offense. Junior MF/F Mikayla Livingston (7g, 5a) is the team’s leading returning scorer and has shown – at times – to be exceedingly dangerous with the ball at her feet. Best used on the touch lines, Livingston had the luxury of running with Alexis Kiehl however and Kiehl sucked a lot of attention from opposing defenses. Without that, Livingston must prove to be a capable goal scorer in more 1 vs 1 situations and command a dominating presence up top. It’s within her wheelhouse to be All-Conference, but consistency has wavered at times and the disappearing acts could spell doom this year for a team desperate for an All-League striker. In fairness, the same praise and criticism could be said for others. Sophomore Sara Robertson (4g) and senior Keagin Collie (2g, 5a) must also make significant strides rather than baby steps. No player from last year’s freshmen class made the A10 All-Rookie squad, making the sophomore class a vital one in 2018. They must get better and impact the game and Robertson is our pick to make that improvement.

Collie may be the key to the season – we said the same thing last year. Dayton hemorrhaged far too often with lack of ball-winning and possession in the central third. It cost the Flyers several results for sure, but more importantly it affected UD’s ability to exert influence within the matches. Far too often UD lacked speed, quickness, and toughness around the center circle to dis-possess, shed the first mark, and deliver weak-side service to teammates opening up space in transition. It’s all but impossible to finish in the upper third of the Atlantic 10 – or any conference – without an All-League central midfielder. Golz must impress upon Collie both her importance and ability to make this year the defining measure of her career.

Senior Quincy Kellett (0g, 5a) started 19 matches last year as a wide attacking player and brings a wealth of experience as a player that tasted success when the Flyers were A10 contenders in her first two seasons. Kellett can impact the game, but too often last year the impact was an absence of engagement. She must dig out more balls, get stuck into more tackles, and translate her odometer into touches of the ball rather than watching the match carry on without her. Those second efforts will change her game for the better and rub off on her teammates. She’s a senior and must lead by example.

Junior Caroline Mink (2g) abused #1 seed St. Joseph’s like a rented mule in the A10 title match of her freshman season -- they had no answer for her. Since then, Mink lost her groove and hasn’t quite rediscovered it. At 5-8 she gives UD good size along the touch lines and has a solid burst of speed after the first touch of the ball. She’s a better player than her sophomore form and fans want to see it. Mink can be a 5g/5a player, but she must trust her own skill set, think less, and just play what’s in front of her. She’s most dangerous when keeping it simple.

Juniors Madeleine Morrissey (1g, 1a), and Jordan Pauley (1g, 2a) also return and share 17 starts from a year ago. Like Collie, ball-winning and sustained possession are integral chores on their 2018 to-do list. If UD can finally get some possession and stop chasing the game, everything else will start rolling downhill.

Helping Pestell in the back line is senior Beth Kamphaus, an offensive player converted to defender with good size (5-8) and terrific fitness as a central back. She’s capable of eliminating angles and covering for other players with her speed and reaction times. She’s generally a good distributor out of the back line, but there are inexplicable moments where hospital balls put the Flyers in dire straits. Those lapses seem more mental than anything and a bit more consistency could land her on the All-Conference team with a strong senior year. She was one of just four Flyers to start all 20 games a year ago.

Hanna Merritt started five matches, appeared in 11 overall, and can also play the back line. Sophomore Kara Camarco played just 51 minutes as a true freshman but may be counted on this year to bolster the defense.

Megan Rack, Emily Trick, Emma Thomas, Dani Ruffolo, and Morgan Henderson saw limited action a year ago but have a chance to move up the pecking order. Olivia Brown was UD’s most-heralded 2017 recruit but saw little action a year ago and battled injuries in the preseason. Her status is unknown.

In goal once again is senior Kaelyn Johns, perhaps Dayton’s most talented player not named Pestell. A three-year starter with 61 starts to her credit, Johns has – at times – done God’s work in the goal box and kept the Flyers in matches they were otherwise overwhelmed. Part of that necessity came from a team defense that chased the ball far too much, resulting in minimal possession and unmarked opposing players challenging the Flyer goal mouth. Her teammates made her job more difficult than it needed to be and the repetitive bacon-saving circus acts led to several brutal injuries that might have ended the careers of other goalkeepers. Not that she did the wrong thing or made the wrong decisions, but her field players orchestrated the climate for far too many ugly situations with Florence Nightingale defending that forced Johns into dangerous spots where sheer bravery and bodily sacrifice kept a ball out of the net. She needs more help, she deserves more help. She might be the best overall goalkeeper in the league. Her GAA is not reflective of her talents. The Flyers must make her job easier this year to take a step forward.

NEWCOMERS

It’s hard to tell which newcomers will see the field early in the season. Hannah Osland (5-10, Scottsdale AZ) started against Wright State in the preseason and earned quality minutes. Several others also saw the field with the intention of moving into the rotation for the season opener. Considering last year’s incoming class failed to poach anyone on the A10 All-Rookie team, the 2018 class must make an immediate impact. Dayton needs difference-makers on the field and with a couple exceptions, nobody’s job is watertight – that’s the reality on a team that struggles in the three basic areas of play – scoring, defending, and possession. There’s no better time to be a freshman at UD, but competition will force the vets to up their game as well. Everybody wins.

FLYER FOES

The Flyer non-conference schedule is challenging and road-heavy to start the season. Dayton opens up at JMU on Thursday, followed by William & Mary on Sunday Aug. 19. Dayton opens the home schedule on Aug. 23 vs Louisville then take a bus to Ypsilanti, MI, for a match at Eastern Michigan three days later. Four consecutive matches follow at Baujan Field against Butler, Akron, Florida Gulf Coast, and Xavier to finish the non-league schedule. The Flyers may be underdogs in all but Akron, EMU, and Xavier – and those won’t be “gimmes“ either. Anything close to .500 heading into the league schedule would be considered a huge success, but that’s a tall order.

UD opens A10 play at George Mason on Sep. 20, followed by trip to Duquesne on the 23rd. The Flyers return home for three matches against VCU, St. Joseph’s, and Saint Louis before traveling to Davidson on Oct. 7th. League power LaSalle visits on Oct. 11, then GW hosts the Flyers on the 14th.

Dayton remains on the road with a match at Richmond on Oct. 18, then finish the regular season at home vs. UMass on Oct. 23. Dayton hosts this year’s A10 Tournament. First round games are on campus sites, followed by the semis and finals at Baujan Field.

POINTS AND COUNTERPOINTS

It’s a program in transition and this year may not be so different from last season where the Flyers probably hit their ceiling with a .500 overall record. The “goals for Golz” this year will likely focus on more player development, tactics, and better balance on the field by the end of the season. Last year was a season of too few doing too much while too many offered too little. That has to change in year two even if the wins and losses don’t necessarily reflect the progress being made. More players must pull their weight and do it on a more consistent basis. More players must affect game play and affect outcomes rather than enjoy a front-row seat. There must be greater accountability when those metrics fall short, and with a larger roster and a plethora of fresh faces, a seat on the bench is the best place to re-evaluate those priorities while others buy in.

Kiehl’s departure cannot be overstated; she made a lot of team shortcomings feel slightly less caustic. UD returns just one All-Conference player on the entire roster and she plays in the back line. That Nadia Pestell is also UD’s most consistent attacking player at the moment is a bit of an indictment on the remaining Flyer offense. It’s time for everyone – both offensively and defensively – to check their hearts and minds into more matches or step aside. Work rate and soccer IQ must take a Paul Bunyon-sized step forward – even if the execution is still a work in progress. This is a program still searching for its old identity; not necessarily Mike Tucker’s coaching fingerprints but the prevailing attitude of a program built on a commitment to excellence.

Neither Golz or the Flyer program can be judged once again under the same lens as past UD teams sporting names like Ashley Campbell, Nicole Waters, and Colleen Williams. Like it or not, Dayton is probably still a year away from being a year away. Expect more teething and indigestion at times as the Flyers turn the simple things into complications. Despite the challenging schedule, absence of star power on offense, major ball possession shortcomings in the central third, and a back line that surrenders too many soft goals, we believe the program is headed in the right direction. Whether that involves existing players getting better or the purging of dead weight, that’s for the coaching staff to iron out. Dayton has something last year’s team didn’t have – a huge class of first-year players not familiar with last year’s struggles. That alone may spark something.

PREDICTIONS

The A10 will pose a challenge once again. There are too many solid teams with fewer question marks that, on paper, stand a better chance of fighting toward the top of the league. The Flyers qualified for the A10 Tourney last year on the final day of the regular season and that could happen again this year. UD’s margin for error remains exceedingly thin and their A10 chances may hinge on the talent of the league as much as their own. A Top-8 finish is required.

The metrics tell us finishing 8th or better won’t get any easier than last year. Yet, Dayton has never failed to qualify for the A10 postseason tournament. By hook or by crook we think UD will punch their ticket again, if even by the slimmest of margins. Perhaps the motivating factor of playing host to the A10 Tournament will give the team an extra incentive. Still, fans must be realistic about 2018’s expectations and grade the team’s performance accordingly. Measuring progress by run-of-play rather than wins and losses will offer a more accurate assessment of program trajectory. The 2018 Flyers can exceed expectations by doing a few things in a few key areas they failed to achieve last season. Knocking the team GAA down to under 1.00 would be a great start. Turning the Flyer midfield into ball-winning, possession-dominating psychopaths would be a great November finish.

Projected A10 Finish: 8th
Projected A10 Tournament Finish: Quarterfinals
Postseason: None
__________________

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

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  #1  
By soccerflyer on 08-15-2018, 11:10 PM
Coaches have picked the Flyers 7th, the Explorers 2nd, and the Billikens 1st. I do want to reiterate the Flyers sched is much more favorable this year than last, having home dates with both SJU and La Salle helps. So I will say the Flyers have a good chance at 5 wins in conf and a pretty certain playoff spot, as long as everything is good with the incoming group. I don't view 11 incoming freshmen as a weakness but as an opportunity to have renewed competitive balance in many areas of the field. Think of OOC as an audition and expect a lot of shared minutes!
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