ERAU women remain serious about contending for Cal Pac championship
PRESCOTT - Provided the injury bug doesn't rear its ugly head again this season, the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University women's soccer team appears poised to contend for the Cal Pac Conference championship in 2015.
Eighth-year coach Todd Poitras' Eagles have qualified for the league title match in each of the past three seasons, winning the crown in 2012 and garnering runner-up honors in 2013 and 2014. This year's seniors were freshmen when ERAU won the league crown and got to nationals in the program's first year in the Cal Pac.
The 2015 campaign starts at 4:30 p.m. today, Aug. 21, when the Eagles host Providence Christian College on their Prescott campus field off Willow Creek Road. Admission is free.
"For us, the goal is always going to be to compete for a championship," Poitras said Thursday. "And I have absolutely no reason to believe why this year should be any different than years past. We are a little bit younger than we've been, but with that youth sometimes brings a lot of new enthusiasm and excitement."
Last season, ERAU likely would have captured the Cal Pac tournament championship and qualified for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national championships if two of its best offensive starters hadn't suffered season-ending knee injuries. The Eagles lost 2-1 to Menlo College in the Cal Pac title match last November in Atherton, Calif., and finished with a 10-9-1 overall record.
Five-foot-9 senior forward Kalyn Goodenough, the 2014 Cal Pac Player of the Year and an honorable mention NAIA All-American, tore her meniscus in the conference tourney semifinals and missed the conference championship.
Senior forward Amie Jepsen was also lost to a knee injury early in the 2014 season. Both Goodenough and Jepsen are three-year letter winners who've spent the last several months recuperating.
Goodenough and Jepsen played only about a half in each of the team's first two scrimmages Aug. 10 and 15 in Prescott.
"I think they're somewhere between 95 to 100 percent (healthy)," Poitras said. "We're going to try to ease them back in, and the intent is for them to go as much as we need them come the middle of September/October when we're in the thick of our conference season."
As far as personnel is concerned, Poitras said one of the Eagles' strong suits rests in the midfield. Senior midfielder Kelsey Merrigan, the team's captain who was a two-time All-Cal Pac selection as a defender; junior MF Erica Nieves; and junior MF Estelle Fortes, a two-year letter winner who's "poised to do some really good things," guide the unit.
On defense, senior center-back Kalynn Huebner (5-7), who's another all-conference performer; and junior defender/outside back Emilie Tarin (5-8), who emerged as a starter late in 2014, form the core of the back line. Freshman defender Adriana Jackson (5-8) of Port Orchard, Wash., will see time at center-back as well, Poitras said.
"As much as I'm excited about the midfield and the attacking aspect, defensively we're going to be just as strong, if not stronger, than we've been the past couple years," he added.
At goalkeeper, ERAU brings back tall, technical 5-10 sophomore Emily Lambert and quick, athletic 5-5 junior Abby Couto. But neither of them started last fall. Former first-string keeper Brenna Quinn, who also struggled with an injury and missed several league matches in 2014, graduated.
"They've both done really, really well in preseason, so initially there will probably be some splitting of time (in matches) if either one of them is our clear-cut starter," Poitras said of Lambert and Couto.
In the off-season, nine seniors who were on the Eagles' 2014 team graduated. For most programs, that number of losses would be difficult to overcome.
But Poitras said he pieced together one of the stronger recruiting classes of his tenure in 2015. ERAU has nine freshmen, highlighted by forwards Madalyn Markham (5-4), a dynamic goal scorer who will go down as one of the best players to don a Prescott High girls' soccer uniform, and Krista Lee (5-2) of Henderson, Nev.
"Our freshmen are going to turn some heads much, much sooner than later," Poitras added.
With Goodenough and Jepsen returning to the fold, Poitras said the offense is in good hands.
"We have the most attacking firepower that we've probably ever had, which is going to be interesting for us," he added.
However, minus those nine departed seniors, the Eagles were picked in a 2015 Cal Pac preseason poll to finish third in the conference. That's the same regular-season finish ERAU recorded in 2014.
"I think we're a little underrated; a little undervalued," Poitras said. "People made the assumption that we're going to be rebuilding. Little do they know that we have some pretty key returners.
"It's an exciting group to be around, and I'm probably as excited for this season as I've been in my entire career."
Follow Doug Cook on Twitter @dougout_dc. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 2039, or 928-642-7865.