From right to left: Twin sisters Gina and Katy Ryan pose with teammates Bree Mason and Bea Fretwell following the team’s 1-0 win over Chowan in season opener. PN photo/Khari Mcqueen.
In 2017, the UNCP women’s soccer team enjoyed great success, posting a 15-5-1 record, winning a Peach Belt Conference Championship and advancing to the second round of the NCAA playoffs.
This year's team looks to compound on that success with a largely different roster, but a similar philosophy and style.
The team lost six seniors to graduation from last year’s squad and will look to different players to replace that veteran leadership in 2018.
Production will have to come from both old and new players alike, as the Braves welcome 10 first-year players to a team that returns 10 players from last year.
Assistant coach Brittany Padilla spoke about the challenge of fielding a team that is equal parts experience and new blood.
“Our biggest challenge is making sure we’re all on the same page. Making sure that we all buy into what we’re all about; the culture that we’ve built.” Padilla said.
The influx of new talent on the team also means better depth. The youth movement should reinvigorate a team that was a bit top-heavy at times in 2017 and allow for a bigger rotation.
“This year we’re probably deeper than we’ve ever been. I think we’re going to sub more than we ever have,” Padilla said.
The team has built a reputation for being stout defensively, on the back of 13 shutouts in 2017, and looks to remain strong on that end of the field.
The team promotes junior goalkeeper Gina Ryan as one of the centerpieces of the defense.
“We pride ourselves on defense. We have a very lofty goal this year of 15 shutouts.” Padilla said.
The team looks to improve offensively behind the fearsome scoring tandem of returning forwards Stacey Scott and Alexis Pittman. Pittman led the team in scoring last season as a freshman and the two players will be looked to again to provide punch for the team offensively.
Coach Padilla also expressed the desire to see the team spread the wealth more in terms of scoring.
“I see a lot of contributing players,” Padilla said in reference to the goal scoring. “[We want to] have 10 or more players score at least a goal this season.”
The renewed scoring emphasis should help jump-start an offense looking to improve on its 1.58 goal-per-game average from last season and score more points.
The new-look women’s soccer team opened its season at home against Chowan on Aug. 30.
Credits: Photo by Khari MacQuen