Huskies seek return to NCAA Tournament

By By Jonathan Raymond, News Staff

The women’s soccer team last year accomplished something that had only been done once before by a Northeastern athletics squad:’ winning a Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) title.
The Huskies finished with their best record in program history, 13-9-2, and conducted a remarkable run through the CAA tournament as the sixth and final seed, winning the conference championship 1-0 over Hofstra in double overtime and proceeding to the NCAA Tournament for the first time. In the opening round Nov. 14 they topped Harvard 4-2 in penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie in regulation for their first-ever win in the tournament, before bowing out to Boston College 4-0 in the second round Nov. 16.
Head coach Ed Matz and his squad aim to duplicate this season’s success, though he acknowledged how much more difficult it will be, both because of the CAA subtracting two playoff spots and because of the valuable senior guidance that’s been lost from last year’s team.
‘We lost some great leadership with the girls that we lost to graduation,’ Matz said. ‘So we’re just basically trying to give girls more responsibility and to give them leadership responsibility. We think that’s our biggest concern right now but those girls have done a great job there.’
Key players lost to graduation include last year’s co-captains defensemen Emilee Ellison and Brenna Matthews, as well as forward Jenna Lucchesi.
The young Huskies of 2009 will feature just one senior, forward and captain Liza Rebello. She scored seven goals and recorded four assists for 18 points last season, second most on the team. Of the 11 players who made at least 22 starts for Matz last year, eight will return.
A robust and talented sophomore class that includes 2008 leading scorer Veronica Napoli (12 goals, five assists, 29 points), Kelly Matthews (11 points, fourth on team), midfielder Erin McGaffigan, and starting keeper Stephanie Gordon (1.20 goals against average, .791 save percentage) will be relied on to take a step forward in bringing the Huskies back to where they were in 2008.
Of the 16 women currently listed on the roster, 10 are sophomores. Two junior defenders, Tinna Nielsen and Leslie Condie, will serve as tri-captains with Rebello and be asked to anchor a defense that loses Matthews and Ellison, who led the defensive effort last season.
Napoli said the four upperclassmen have worked to establish a chemistry and flow with the squad’s younger players.
‘They’re taking it a lot more seriously,’ she said. ‘They’re definitely checking on us all the time, making sure we’re doing all the work. It’s going to take a lot of work to get back in the finals next year and they’re making sure we’re doing everything we have to do to get back there.’
Matz will no doubt be looking for Napoli to lead the offense again this season. Last season Napoli had little trouble adjusting to the collegiate game. She was named a third team All-American, first team All-Northeast, third team All- New England, third team All-CAA, first team CAA All-Rookie Team, and was the CAA Rookie of the Year.
The Huskies open the season Aug. 28 against Longwood at Parsons Field, followed by an Aug. 30 contest against Cincinnati. Matz said the Nike Invitational the first week of September will provide the team a challenge against solid opponents Clemson and Georgia.
The team is expected to field a dynamic offense and rely on a potent scoring attack to succeed in the CAA, Matz said.
‘We had a very strong goal total last year, we think we’ll be even more dangerous on offense next year,’ he said. ‘With Napoli and Rebello coming back our offense will be very, very good, and we bring back all of our midfielders.’
He also said while his squad was less experienced than last year, it would feature more raw talent this year. That’s partly due to freshmen like Devin Petta, a striker from Whitman-Hanson Regional High School who scored 100 goals in her career there; and transfers like freshman Heidi Osgood, a midfielder who has played for Norway’s under-17 national team, and sophomore Danielle Gordon, a defender coming over from Boston College and sister of Stephanie Gordon, Matz said.
‘We think we have a good strong blend of freshmen and transfers coming into our program,’ he said. ‘I think we’ll have more talent than we did last year. Whether we do better than last year is up to the leadership.’
Despite the question marks that hover around this squad’s experience, Matz said there’s no doubt about its talent, and despite the tougher path to the CAA title, the Huskies were well prepared to make a strong push at it.
‘We’re pretty optimistic and we know we have a challenge with the reduction in playoff teams and all, but we think we’re ready to meet that challenge,’ he said.

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