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Embry-Riddle Women’s Soccer Eagles ready for another Cal-Pac title push

PRESCOTT — Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University women’s soccer coach Todd Poitras is banking on a host of talented underclassmen to bolster his team’s postseason aspirations in 2016 and beyond.

Embry-Riddle Women’s Soccer 2016 Schedule

DATE / OPPONENT / TIME

Aug. 16 / MESA C.C.+ / 7 p.m.

Aug. 22 / C.C. OF SPOKANE+ / 7 p.m.

Aug. 25 / at San Diego Christ. / 11 a.m.

Aug. 27 / at St. Katherine Coll. / 3:30 p.m.

Sept. 1 / MIDAM. NAZARENE / 7 p.m.

Sept. 5 / MASTER’S (CALIF.) / 10 a.m.

Sept. 10 / at Westmont (Calif.) / noon

Sept. 11 / at La Verne (Calif.) / 7 p.m.

Sept. 16 / at AZ Christian / 7 p.m.

Sept. 22 / at Prov. Christ. (Calif.)^ / 4:30 p.m.

Sept. 24 / at Marymount (Calif.)^ / 7 p.m.

Oct. 1 / SIMPSON (CALIF.)^ / 7 p.m.

Oct. 8 / J. & WALES (COLO.) / 7 p.m.

Oct. 15 / CAL-MERCED^ / 1 p.m.

Oct. 22 / at Soka (Calif.)^ / 4 p.m.

Oct. 23 / at Bethesda (Calif.) / TBD

Oct. 29 / ANT. VALL. (CALIF.)^ / 3:30 p.m.

Nov. 3 / LA SIERRA (CALIF.)^ / 4 p.m.

Nov. 5 / at Sierra Nevada Coll.^ / 1 p.m.

All home matches at ERAU campus field

off Willow Creek Road in Prescott

  • = Scrimmage

^ = Cal Pac Conference match

The defending Cal-Pac Conference champion Eagles, who lost in the first round of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national tournament in 2015, have 10 freshmen and nine sophomores on their 28-player roster this fall. Only three are seniors and six are juniors with limited playing time.

Poitras hopes a combination of young talent and the leadership of his upperclassmen will carry ERAU.

“The chemistry of that group is amazing already,” Poitras said of his 2016 team from practice Aug. 12. “It’s shocking. We have some great personalities in there. We’re as deep a team as we’ve been.”

Embry-Riddle kicks off the 2016 season with a non-conference match at 11 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 25, at San Diego Christian College in Santee, California.

“The group of freshmen who came in are certainly young, but they’re experienced at the highest level from Club and high school [ball],” Poitras added. “That experience certainly will pay off, whether that’s right away or late in the season or in years to come.”

The Eagles will play two scrimmages on their campus field at 3700 Willow Creek Road in Prescott. Tonight, Aug. 16, ERAU hosts Mesa Community College. On Aug. 22, the hometown squad welcomes the Community College of Spokane (Washington). Both matches start at 7 p.m.

In some respects, Embry-Riddle will be tuning up for a match that’s still a month away.

A technically-strong, athletic and speedy ERAU squad will battle Westmont College (California) in a nationals rematch five games into the season on Sept. 10 in Santa Barbara. NAIA power Westmont eliminated the Eagles from nationals, 6-0, last November. Poitras purposely scheduled the match and announced it to his players in the spring.

“Where they’re at is where we want to be,” Poitras said of Westmont. “In order for us to get to that level consistently – our goal is to be in the [NAIA] Top 25 year in and year out – you have to play the best teams.”

In 2015, Embry-Riddle compiled a 13-4-3 overall record (6-0-1 at home) and went 7-1-2 in conference.

This fall, sophomore forward Krista Lee (5-foot-2) of Henderson, Nevada, and sophomore center back Adriana Jackson (5-8) of Port Orchard, Washington, help guide the Eagles.

Lee, 2015 Cal-Pac Freshman of the Year, was a National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) All-West Region First-Team selection. Lee led the Eagles with 11 goals scored. Jackson made the region’s Second Team.

Lee and Jackson were two of five freshmen who started for the Eagles at nationals. Sophomore MF Breanna Larkin (5-6) of Las Vegas, an all-conference pick, and standout sophomore forward Ashtin Martinson (5-5) were freshmen in 2015, too.

“We’re going to have a really great season,” Jackson said. “We had a good season last year. All of the incoming freshmen are really strong, and they all bring in good components to our team.”

Five senior starters graduated in May, including forwards Kalyn Goodenough and Amie Jepsen, as well as midfielder Kelsey Merrigan and defenders Kalynn Huebner and Kacey McConagha. (In 2015, Merrigan earned NSCAA All-West Region First-Team honors. Goodenough was a Second-Team pick.)

Embry-Riddle has 18 letter winners this fall. Forward and team captain Estelle Fortes (5-5) of Shoreline, Washington; midfielder Erica Nieves (5-2) of Los Angeles; and senior goalkeeper Abby Couto (5-5) of Lakeville, Massachusetts, are seniors with three years’ experience.

Fortes said the team’s trying finish at nationals has made the ladies even more dedicated.

“Through the summer we train on our own, and we carry a lot of that – whether it was disappointment or excitement from winning – we focus in on that when we’re training. I know I did,” Fortes said. “We come back with a new kind of intensity and a new fire. We want more this year.”

In goal, junior Emily Lambert (5-10) of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and freshman Caitlyn Aaron (5-7) of Flower Mound, Texas, are in the starting mix with Couto. Poitras said Couto, an aerospace engineering major, will return to the team in a week or so after completing a summer internship with NASA.

Eagles freshmen to watch include forward Carly Elias (5-4) of Simi Valley, California; forward Megan Currier (5-6) of Anchorage, Alaska; Aaron (5-7); defender/midfielder Parker Lee (5-5) of Kennewick, Washington; defender Maddy Mak (5-5) of Renton, Washington; and Nat Bristol (5-6) of Canby, Oregon.

Currier, a multi-sport athlete, was a finalist for Gatorade Player of the Year in Alaska. Aaron starred for Texas 6A state champion Flower Mound High and earned player of the year honors. Elias was an All-State selection. Bristol earned 15 varsity letters in high school.

“You can tell we have a lot of talent this year,” Lee said. “We lost five great ones, but we added 10 really good ones. We’re not going to struggle much.”

Poitras said the Eagles plan to repeat as Cal-Pac champions. Like last year, Marymount (California) and Cal-Merced should provide the stiffest league competition. ERAU will face each of its league foes only once this year, instead of twice, as it has in prior seasons.

The Cal-Pac’s coaches picked the Eagles to win the conference again, followed by Marymount in second place and Merced in third.

“The conference as a whole is getting stronger with Soka and Antelope Valley [of California],” Poitras said. “We have a new team in La Sierra [Riverside, California]. Next season we’ll have a new team at Benedictine University down in Mesa.”

To reach Doug, call him at 928-445-3333, ext. 2039, or email him at dcook@prescottaz.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dougout_dc.

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