Wednesday, August 27, 2008

These Chix Got Game...Don't Sleep!

Several games into the 2007 campaign, Quinnipiac women’s soccer coach Dave Clarke was already entertaining thoughts about playoff life.

Clarke shifted his gaze from post-season berth to Northeast Conference championship appearance after his team reeled off eight consecutive victories. Suddenly, however, Clarke’s playoff aspirations became an afterthought as the Bobcats’ youthful offensive unit suffered a severe power outage.

The season was a tale of two halves.

The Bobcats managed to score just one goal over the final seven games. The team which opened eyes during the first half was teetering on extinction towards the end. The season culminated in a 9-7-2 flameout. For the third straight season, the Bobcats failed to qualify for the post-season.

That looks to change this season. Despite the loss of goalie Chloe Beizer (49 saves, 0.76 GAA) and All-Region forward Sara Lawlor, Quinnipiac returns a firm foundation. May 2008 graduation claimed Beizer while Lawlor suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament that will sideline her for the season.

Quinnipiac was picked to finish fourth in the NEC pre-season coaches poll.

“I mean, it’s obviously down to the coaches’ opinions, so it becomes a bit cliché,” said Clarke. “It’s really where you end the season and not where you start the season. What it does do is give us some sort of respect for what we have coming back.”

The Bobcats return a nucleus of scorers in forwards Lauren Peacock (six goals, six assists in 2007), Susan Donovan, Amber Sidoti, Meagan McLoughlin, and Enfield product Justine Lombardi. This quintet totaled 24 of the Bobcats’ 28 goals last season.

Clarke has lofty expectations for fifth-year senior Kate Ahearn. Ahearn, the clear leader of the defensive unit, will shoulder the burden of captain for a young team.

With Lawlor’s season ending before it started, Donovan is flushed into a leadership role. The junior from Cork, Ireland was featured as a go-to-guy during her first two seasons. She led the Bobcats with 19 points and eight goals as a freshman. Donovan started off hot last season before falling into a sophomore slump.

The Bobcats scored a highly-touted recruit in freshman forward Furtuna Velaj. Velaj, who authored a storied career at Westhill-Stamford, is expected to make an immediate impact. Velaj showed promise on the semi-pro circuit this summer, emerging as the Player of the Year in the Connecticut Football Club U-19 W-league.

“(Furtuna) brings a degree of credibility to the program,” said Clarke. Her and Jillian Kelly gives us two players that a lot of coaches would have wanted. It’s exciting. They’re both very high-caliber players.”

Kelly, widely regarded as one of the top goalies in the nation last year, is expected to start in net right away.

“She is a player that’s really going to contribute to the program immensely this season and over the next four years. She’s a recruit that could have gone to a top-20 school, but we were fortunate enough to get her.”

This season, the Bobcats will place much value on consistency and playing what Ahearn describes as a “full, all-out 90 minutes brand of soccer.” Ahearn said that the Bobcats have also augmented their bench depth and are looking to avoid the late-game gaffes that haunted them down the stretch of last season.

“Our emphasis is on the last ten minutes of every game,” Ahearn said. “We don’t lose in the last ten minutes of the game, that’s our mindset. We don’t let up any goals. We want to do what it takes to win. That mental toughness is what we’re trying to establish.”