The Rollins women's soccer team won each of the past two Sunshine State Conference Championships, but the Tars will be under new leadership in 2010 as they chase an unprecedented third straight title. The Patrick Baker era begins with Rollins riding a 17 game unbeaten streak in regular season conference action, and a target placed firmly on their backs.
Baker replaces the reigning SSC Coach of the Year Tony Amato, who is now the head coach of Stephen F. Austin. No stranger to the pitch, Baker has spent over two decades at the helm of many successful programs, including his last stint at University of Georgia where he helped the Bulldogs to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances from 2007 to 2009.
Baker inherits an exceptionally skilled squad that has rarely done anything but win in their careers at Rollins. Returning seven starters from last year's team that posted an overall mark of 16-2-2, and 7-0-1 record in conference action, the Tars will look to Baker and returning assistant coach Alicia Milyak to shake things up and take them to the next level. Preparing for their fourteenth season as a varsity program the Tars look forward to learning a new system, and utilizing team chemistry heading into the season.
"Even though the preseason timeline was shortened, we really tried to focus on the overall structure of our game," says Baker. "We've spent a lot of time covering individual concepts and how they will apply to our overall shape and strategy. We've also concentrated on both ends of the field, and placed an emphasis on patterns of play and how to approach different situations from any angle."
With five returning upper classmen who earned All-SSC honors, including some All-Region and All American selections in 2009, the Tars have plenty of leadership both on and off the pitch. But the first few games will be crucial in the development of the team as they set their sights on conference play later in the season.
Baker expands upon the importance of the first two weekends, saying, "We tried to spend equal amounts of time on either side of the ball throughout preseason. It's always interesting as we prepare for the opening weekend. With such a small preseason, we've had limited opportunities to play in game-like situations as an entire team. You really need to get some games under your belt as a team to find out who works well together in specific areas of the field."
The Tars welcome nine new faces to the team this year that come from near and far; from England and Washington to Central Florida. "We have such a large recruiting class this season," explains Baker. "The young players are still trying to figure out their role, who they gel with on the field, and who is best suited to play in certain positions. But they all have wonderful versatility to their game. We just need to piece the puzzle together and figure out who is better in certain positions this season."
The first few games will help them solidify just that, and while there may be some tweaking to the overall shape and lineup over the first few games, Baker is confident that the Tars will be prepared for any situation.
"We may have to convert one or two players, but everyone has been really receptive to the new system and structure," Baker adds. "The team has been working very hard throughout the past few weeks of training, and I feel like we're at a good point. Playing the teams that we have scheduled the first two weekends will give us a really good indication of where we're at individually and collectively. I like the talent of our opponents, and our strength of schedule in our first few games is something that not every team looks to take on at the beginning of the season. It will be a challenge, but we'll be entering into conference play knowing exactly what our strengths and weaknesses are, and we'll have plenty of time to refine those areas."
Coming off of an impressive defensive performance in 2009 that topped the conference with 13 shutouts and a 0.64 goals against average, the Tars will look to provide an impenetrable wall in front of the net led by SSC Defensive Player of the Year and second team Daktronics All-American, Meagan Thomas. Joining Thomas on the back line will be fellow senior standout Leah Hirsch, who was second on the team in goals scored with seven, and third in overall points with a total of 15 last season. Both defenders will be expected to have standout seasons anchoring the back line.
"They do so much for us that doesn't appear in a box score," Baker points out. "We're excited to have them on the field, and are looking forward to their leadership both on and off the field this season."
The duo will be joined by sophomore Anita Cox, a transfer from Murray State, who has proven to be a great asset in the back line in her short time with the Tars. The trio could be joined by any number of individuals, and Baker has been utilizing preseason wisely to play with different combinations of players in certain positions.
Senior Marie Sapper returns for her final season with the Tars. After battling injuries for the past few seasons, Sapper will be looked to for her versatility and hard work to fill in as a staunch midfielder and defensive force. The first few games will be utilized to find her niche in this season's squad, but Baker is positive that her adaptability will be an asset to the Tars' defensive strategies.
Sophomore Whitney Rohrer has seen plenty of success throughout the preseason on defense, as well. "While she has not been a true defender in her career, she has played really well there the past few weeks," says Baker. "As long as she stays committed to the position and keeps watching videos and showing the interest in learning the systems, I really think she's going to be a welcome addition to the back line this year." Freshmen Maddie Ginder will also be rotated into the back line, and has shown some great potential throughout preseason.
The Tars lost the senior duo of Rachel Jakubowski and Jessica Mooney at the end of last season, and are in need of a new engine in the midfield. Baker is confident that junior Charlotte Murrell could fit into the role quite easily. After starting her career at Rollins as a forward, and then spending her sophomore season on the back line as a stalwart defender, Murrell will most likely take the reins in the midfield. "I like a lot of her traits," says Baker. "She can do a lot of things as our holding midfielder, and she'll be someone that we'd like to base the central part of our midfield on."
The remainder of the midfield squad will see valuable time and plenty of minutes. Sophomore Annie Pippert, and freshmen Brenna McKee, Olivia Bloemke, and Morgan Foster will see significant time in the midfield, and will help keep the Tars moving forward in key situations.
Taking control from the midfield up to the forward line will be returning wing specialist Ashley Waplinger. "She has been tremendous as a wide player," explains Baker. "She's very technical and has a great understanding of the game. She's dangerous off the dribble or with her service, and has incredible dexterity. She has come in with the right frame of mind and has been really receptive to our ideas and has started to apply them well." Sophomore Elise Spearing will be another player expected to have a great season out wide. With her height, speed, and ability to break away from defenders, she will be looked to make things happen off of her service from the outside.
The forward line will be headed-up by seniors Chelsea Brady and Jessica Deese. "Chelsea is just tremendous," says Baker. "Her back to goal ability and ability to run at players and do the unexpected makes her a legitimate high-level forward. Deese is a tireless worker and has a great understanding of our system. She defends as well as she attacks up front and is very good back-to-goal. Her ideas and drive will really help us up front. We're expecting good things out of the two."
After spending most of last season on the sideline due to an injury in her freshman season, Ali Schrader takes to the field after exploding onto the scene at the end of 2009, earning SSC Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors. Now, with her health in check, she will be expected to help make things happen on the forward line in her sophomore campaign. "We look forward to her having an even bigger year than last year," Baker adds. "She's very clinical in and around the box, and her ability to take players on and score goals will be a great tool for us." Wrapping-up the forward line, freshman Kelsey Boone will look to earn some time and experience. The Weston, Fla., native will provide plenty of depth and versatility around the box.
After having no depth between the posts for the past two seasons, the Tars finally have two goalkeepers on the roster. Returning standout Michelle Dillingham will be expected to have another solid season for the Tars. Her sophomore campaign was one for the record books as she posted 12 individual shutouts, and a save percentage .849, while allowing just 13 goals all season. Preseason has plagued Dillingham with an injury, allowing freshman Shelby Kesic to take her place between the posts.
"A lot has been asked of Shelby right from the start due to Michelle's injury," Baker explains. "Being our only goalkeeper throughout the preseason has meant that we've been asking a lot from her both in training and in our exhibition play. She has done extremely well, and we're pleased with her progression. We're confident that she can handle whatever we send her way."
Closing out the roster, sophomore Alyssa Beck will be redshirting in 2010, and newcomer Paige Ostos will take some time to recover from an injury so she can hit the pitch later in the season at top strength.
The Tars prepare for their fourteenth season as a varsity program, and takes to the pitch on Saturday, September 4 in the first of two opening season road trips for the Tars. Rollins travels out west to Denton, Texas, to open its 2010 slate against preseason No. 6 West Texas A&M, and follows with a contest against Texas Woman's University on Monday, September 6.
Kicking off their 2010 campaign on the road may not seem like an exciting way to get their season underway, but the silver lining shines through the following weekend when the Tars take to the road yet again to take on No. 2 West Florida on September 10.
The Tars and Argonauts have had plenty of recent drama in the last few seasons, with UWF handing Rollins their only losses for the past two seasons, including last year's heart wrenching 1-0 loss in the NCAA Tournament Third Round.
After the South Region showdown with the Argos, Rollins makes the trek to Thomasville, Ga. to match up against the Thomas University Nighthawks on the 12th before heading back home to Winter Park.
Rollins opens their home slate on September 16, when they host Northwood University (Fla.), and follow-up five days later with their first Sunshine State Conference matchup as they host rival Florida Southern on the 21.
The Tars step out of conference action briefly to take on Texas A&M-Commerce at home on September 26, before making the trek South to Boca Raton, Fla. to take on conference foe Lynn University on the 29th in a 3 p.m. contest to conclude the month of September.
October brings about plenty of SSC action for the Tars, starting with a home game against Nova Southeastern on the 2, followed by a trek out to St. Petersburg to take on the Eckerd College Tritons on the 5th. Rollins makes the long trip down to Miami Shores this year to take on Barry, kicking-off against the Bucs in a 7 p.m. contest on October 9.
The Tars take to Cahall-Sandspur Field once again on October 13, when they host the Saint Leo Lions at 7 p.m., and then hosts preseason No. 21 Florida Tech on the 20th. The Tars hit the road one last time as they travel out to Tampa to take on the Spartans on October 27, and then prepare for their final home game of the regular season as they take on the preseason No. 19 team Armstrong Atlantic to close out the regular season on October 30th.
Fans of Rollins women's soccer will be able to catch all of the action live on the Tars Sports Network at RollinsSports.com, as well as stay up-to-date on all of Rollins athletics on Facebook at Facebook.com/RollinsSports.