The seven seniors on the Wheaton College women's soccer team have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success during their first three seasons, including three bids to the NCAA Tournament as part of the Lyons' remarkable 12-year NCAA run.
"Every year we rely on our senior class to set an example of how we run our program," said 16th-year head coach Luis Reis. "This year's seniors have accepted the responsibility to lead this team, help our new players and be on the same page as the coaching staff."
With a strong strength of schedule featuring regionally ranked opponents every year, that alone has helped Wheaton earn at-large bids into the NCAA Tournament, where they have won three straight first-round games.
"Aside from our competitive conference schedule, our non-league slate is designed to challenge our players," said Reis. "We need to be at our best, be prepared for every opponent and continue improving week to week."
Entering 2012 receiving votes in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) preseason poll, Wheaton posted a 16-4-3 record last fall, marking the 13th straight season in which the Lyons rattled off at least 16 victories. The Blue and White finished second in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) at 7-1-1 before falling to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the league tourney semifinal round.
"The way in which we have lost games the last four years has been frustrating to say the least," added Reis. "We have addressed those areas of concern and improved in parts of our team. The players and coaching staff have been eagerly anticipating the start of the season for the past nine months."
Wheaton hopes to start this season as strong as it did in 2011, when the Lyons went 11-1-2 with eight shutouts during their first 14 games. After narrowly falling to Springfield College, Wheaton pitched five straight shutouts while outscoring its opponents by a 16-0 count during that stretch. The Lyons averaged two-and-a-half goals each time out and held the opposition to under three-quarters of a goal. Wheaton allowed 17 goals and notched 14 shutouts on the year.
"If we're to be good and accomplish any of our team's goals, defending is a top priority," said Reis. "We have the potential, but our players have to execute and accept responsibility. We've had success in the past, but that doesn't mean anything for the present or the future. Our players have to remain focused and hungry in order to earn the team's various goals."
Beginning the fall with 29 players, the Lyons will lean on their seven seniors for veteran leadership, including captains Tara Caney (West Springfield, Mass./West Springfield), Cassey Muse (Candia, N.H./Central), Jordan Muse (Candia, N.H./Central), and Maria Veronesi (Plainville, Conn./Suffield Academy). Five seniors saw most of the starts last year, including the Muses, Samantha Bennett (Weymouth, Mass./Weymouth), Samantha Cronin (Wethersfield, Conn./Wethersfield) and Kierstin Luber (Cedar Park, Texas/Cedar Park).
Cassey Muse, who enters the season ranked ninth in career points and 10th in goals, led Wheaton last fall with 23 points and nine markers. Bennett, Cronin, Luber and Jordan Muse posed a formidable back line, as each started at least 17 games in 2011.
Returning juniors are Kristina Braga (Lowell, Mass./Lowell), Rachelle Rodman (Fair Oaks, Calif./Bella Vista) and Abby Tobin (Lynnfield, Mass./Lynnfield). They are joined by classmate Holly Santos (Fall River, Mass./B.M.C. Durfee), who played her freshman year at Wheaton. Las fall, Braga jetted out to a fast start with 19 points in 12 games before suffering an injury, while Rodman earned the starting nod in 21 matches.
Six sophomores represent four states, including returners Shelby Benoit (Easthampton, Mass./Hampshire Regional),Lauren Corigliano (Roselle Park, N.J./Roselle Park), Lauren Mankowski (Plainville, Conn./Plainville), Laila Razzaghi (Ringoes, N.J./Princeton Day School) and Gabriella Verde (Miami, Fla./Gulliver Prep). Sophomore transferKelsee Howes (Maynard, Mass./Maynard) rounds out the class. Corigliano and Verde started in 10 and nine games, respectively, in 2011.
Twelve freshmen hailing from seven different states make up 40 percent of the team's roster, including in-state nativesKristin Caney (West Springfield, Mass./West Springfield), Allie Hinrichs (Swampscott, Mass./Waring School), Tess Weyburne (Maynard, Mass./Maynard) and Taylor Wilson (Bellingham, Mass./Bellingham). Kristin Caney is the third Caney to don a Wheaton women's soccer jersey, joining teammate Tara and alum Lauren, who graduated in the spring of 2011.
Rounding out the first-year class are Cat Amick (Vashon, Wash./Vashon), Julia Cipriano (Middlebury, Conn./Pomperaug), Alyssa Gilman (West Windsor, N.J./West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional South), Izzy Gorham (Durham, N.H./Oyster River), Ali Hinton (Lafayette, Colo./Alexander Dawson School), Mary McGinley (Madison, Conn./Loomis Chaffee School), Lauren Thacker (Brunswick, Maine/Brunswick) and Tia Weise (Brookfield, Conn./Brookfield).
Three of Wheaton's initial four games are away from Mirrione Stadium, beginning with Friday's season opener at Roger Williams University. The soccer team held a 1-0 lead until early in the second half, when host Roger Williams University drew even in a game that eventually went two overtimes and ended in a tie. The Lyons head to 13th-ranked Williams College on September 9 and host 25th-ranked Springfield on October 2.
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