After finishing second in the Mid-Continent Conference two straight seasons, the Valparaiso University women's soccer team looks claim it first-ever league title in 2003.
Sixth year head coach Stephen Anthony returns 14 letterwinners from last season's squad that finished 4-1 in the Mid-Continent Conference and 5-13-1 overall. This season marks the 11th campaign all-time for women's soccer at Valparaiso, and after a decade of building the program, Anthony has a reason to be optimistic in 2003.
The strength of the Crusaders team should lie in the backline, beginning in goal. Valpo returns a pair of goalkeepers that saw action last season. Second Team All Mid-Continent Conference selection Kristen Templin returns for her senior season after posting a pair of shutouts last season. She ranked 30th in the nation in saves per game, but this season hopes her experienced defense will not allow her to see as many shots.
Backup netminder Danielle Guerra saw action in eight matches as a rookie last season, including four starts, while posting a 2.14 goals against average. She will back up Templin again this season, while Becky Maynard also may see time between the pipes. Maynard has played forward for the Crusaders her first two seasons, but was recruited by Indiana as a goalkeeper prior to transferring to Valpo.
Valpo's defense is a senior-dominated group. First Team All-Conference selection Courtney Budd returns for her final season. She anchors the backfield, but will have classmates Briana Ehrhardt and Jillian Keating alongside her. Ehrhardt and Keating have both started the past three seasons as well, forming a defensive stronghold for the Brown and Gold.
Junior Amy Miller will move to the back to after playing up top her first two seasons. She will join sophomore Kristi Dixon in the defensive third. Both are versatile players who have the capability to start the Valpo attack from the back.
A pair of freshmen, Liberty Ziegahn and Ali Zobel, will also compete for playing time on defense. Ziegahn possesses the ball well, while Zobel is very athletic and has the speed that gives Anthony flexibility as to where he can play her on the field.
The Crusaders midfield is also an experienced one. Sophomores Emily King and Allison Swanson anchored the area last season, and will be looked upon for more of the same this year. King was a Second Team All-Conference selection a year ago, while Swanson started all 19 matches. King also returns as one of the team's leading scorers after tallying three goals last year.
The duo will be joined in the middle third by junior Kelly Faulkner. Faulkner will return to the midfield, a position she played as a freshman, after a stint on defense last season. Freshman Lauren Cooper will also compete for time in the midfield, and the Crusaders will count on her to win balls, especially in the air.
Valpo's offense will be one of the biggest question marks entering the 2003 season after the graduation of Lori Moore, the school's all-time leading goal scorer. A host of Crusaders will look to fill this role for Anthony's squad though.
Maynard returns as a forward when she is not playing in goal, as does junior Lindsay Holley. Holley tied for second on the team in scoring last season, tallying three goals and seven points, and will be again counted on to find the back of the net.
A pair of sophomores return up top as well. Ashley Shaneyfelt and Lorna Torrez each found the back of the net last season and will be counted on to step up their production this year, while helping a pair of freshmen, Casey Mills and Jennifer Bartels, adjust to the collegiate game at forward. Mills looks to attack players offensively, while Bartels will look to find her role in the offensive third.
Valparaiso's 2003 campaign will get underway on August 29 when the Brown and Gold travel to Chicago to battle Loyola (Ill.). Two days later the Crusaders will return to Eastgate Field for their home opener against Western Michigan. Valpo's home schedule also features non-conference opponents Northern Colorado, Toledo, Bowling Green, Eastern Illinois, and IPFW as part of its nine-match home slate. Valpo will also take to the road for four non-conference matches, along with a neutral site contest against Northern Arizona in Cedar City, Utah.
Mid-Continent Conference action begins on October 2 at Southern Utah before Valpo hosts Oakland in its conference home opener. The season will wind down on November 2 when the Crusaders entertain Centenary, the newest member of the Mid-Continent Conference, on Senior Day. The Mid-Con Tournament is slated for November 9 and 11 in Tulsa, Okla.
As the 2003 season unfolds, the biggest question will be the Crusaders offense. If it kicks into high gear, Valpo could be able to make a run at its first-ever Mid-Con title.