Women’s Soccer: Leone, Huskies eye NCAA Tournament

Women’s Soccer: Leone, Huskies eye NCAA Tournament

Senior midfielder Kristen Blake (above) looks to bring the Huskies back to NCAA Tournament. Blake joins senior defenders Leslie Condie and Tinna Nielsen as a captain this season. (News File Photo/ Nathan Vaughan)
By: Anthony Gulizia, News Staff

Under new head coach Tracy Leone, the women’s soccer team looks to make its way back to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament this fall after an early postseason exit last year.

Before joining the Huskies, Leone was the head coach of the Clemson Tigers, bringing her squad to six straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Leone is taking over for Ed Matz, who left Northeastern at the end of last season for a job at UMass.

After posting a conference-best 7-1-3 record in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) the team’s season came to an abrupt end after a heartbreaking 3-1 loss to James Madison in the conference tournament on Nov. 9, 2009.

“When you inherit a successful program, it’s an excellent opportunity to build upon the success they’ve already had,” Leone said. “As long as the team is committed to progressing as a unit, I think we’re going to be just fine.”

Returning to the team is a veteran backfield, anchored by senior captains and defenders Leslie Condie and Tinna Nielsen. Senior All-Conference midfielder Kristen Blake joins the two as a captain this year, and Leone said she looks to receive great success and leadership from the experienced trio.

“One of the greatest factors to the success of the team is how good your defense is,” she said. “It’s always a positive thing to return two captains, and it’s always a positive thing to have leaders keep a tight defense. And we have Blake smack dab in the middle of the field to tie it all in and be the glue to the team. We’ll count on them; we’ll count on all three for sure.”

Blake said she was excited about joining Condie and Nielsen in the backfield as a captain, because of their ability to communicate so well.

“It’s great to have Leslie [Condie] and Tinna [Nielsen] behind me, because I respect them and it’s great to be able to communicate through them because sometimes things get lost in translation on the field and it’s tough to bridge that gap,” Blake said.

Despite a returning veteran defense, there are holes in the lineup that need to be filled, and Leone said she has her work cut out for her. One of the biggest hole lies in net, due to the loss of sophomore goalkeeper Stephanie Gordon, who was removed because of behavior that was detrimental to the team. Gordon started all 19 games last season while turning away 110 shots, and her .96 goals against average ranked fourth in the conference.

Even with the loss, Leone said she is not discouraged as she has a bevy of talent at the goalkeeping position. It is unclear who will fill Gordon’s shoes, as senior Sarah Fylak and sophomores Michelle Sopko and Megan Penn are jockeying for the starting position.

“We’ve got three talented goalkeepers working towards an opportunity,” Leone said. “They all have great strengths, and we’re ready to move forward with them. It’s a positive competition between three selfless players who are pushing each other, and they want what’s best for the team. Whoever is in the net, it’s the work of all three which got them there.”

Although the Huskies only graduated one senior last season, forward Liza Rebello, her offensive firepower will certainly be missed. Rebello recorded eight goals, three assists and 19 points last season.

However, Leone is excited about the seven returning forwards that add great depth to the offense, led by CAA Rookie of the Year Devin Petta.

“We have Devin Petta and Veronica Napoli, which are two forwards that are at the All-American level,” Leone said. “Greta [Samuelsdottir] is returning from a really good season with the club, and there’s Bianca Vecchiarello, Stephanie Raiola, and Taylor Skeffington. Obviously, Liza [Rebello] contributed a great deal the entire time she was here, but you graduate players on, and everybody has developed in the meantime and that is really refreshing as a college coach.”

According to the preseason coaches poll, the Huskies are slated to finish fifth in the conference, and that makes all the difference, the three captains said.

“The year we won the conference championship [2008], we were the underdogs and last year we weren’t and that’s one of the reasons we didn’t take the last step and beat James Madison,” Nielsen said.

Blake agreed with her fellow captain, highlighting the importance of knowing where the team stands.

“Being ranked fifth is humbling, and that’s what we lacked last year,” Blake added.

Condie said there isn’t a game on their schedule that should be taken lightly, especially in the playoffs.

“We need to take every game as if it was our last, because when we played JMU [James Madison University] we played as if we had beat them already, because we beat them during the regular season,” Condie said. “We know we are better than fifth, and this year we can go out and prove to everybody that we can win.”

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