Aug 19, 2013
Part of the appeal, part of the magic of sports is the unpredictable nature of competition.
Despite the thousands of hours and millions of dollars dedicated to prognostication, the result is still decided between the lines. Accordingly, the annals of sports history are filled with teams that refused to submit to the predetermined fate that general consensus had lain before them.
The 1968 New York Jets that shocked the world in Super Bowl III, the upstart 1997 Florida Marlins that took home a world championship in just the fourth year of the franchise’s existence, a veteran-laden 2003-04 Detroit Pistons team that improbably denied the new-age Los Angeles Lakers dynasty a fourth title in five years and even the Wigan Athletic F.C. side that toppled English Premier League giants Manchester City earlier this spring, ending an 81-year FA Cup drought - -- all of these teams succeeded under vastly different circumstances, but share one pivotal element that allowed them to exceed expectations.
The common denominator between the aforementioned squads is that each was spurred in their surprising title runs by a battle-tested core of leaders. Pegged to finish eighth by coaches around the league in this the first season of a new era in BIG EAST athletics, the 2013 Seton Hall women’s soccer team boasts its own experienced nucleus that appears poised to prove to their peers and pundits alike that to underestimate this team would be a miscalculation.
SHU will field a side whose experience rivals that of any team in the nation, led by a group of six Meghan Hayes" dir="ltr" id="Meghan Hayes" style="float: right; margin: 5px;" src="http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/seha/sports/w-soccer/auto_action/9147803.jpeg" height="250" width="150" />seniors in Brittney Albrecht (Mahwah, N.J.), Ashley Clarke (Paramus, N.J.), Meghan Hayes (Fredon, N.J.), Marie Klemme (Berlin, Germany), Katie Ritter (Hagerstown, Md.) and Amie Ruhe (Monrovia, Md.) that has collectively logged over 300 career appearances.
Such continuity has yielded tangible benefits on the field as over three-plus years they have developed a mutual understanding that has made them all the more dangerous to opposing defenses.
“The more you play with a group of girls, the more you learn one another’s strengths and weaknesses,” said Hayes. “It helps us bring out the best in each other.”
“We know exactly how each one of us plays, which makes it easier to combine on the field,” added Klemme.
Together, along with fifth-year goalkeeper Jennifer Pettigrew (Kearny, N.J.) who is returning after missing last season due to injury, they will provide leadership and more for the Pirates during the upcoming campaign.
Prior to joining The Hall, each was a standout at the prep level. Albrecht, Clarke and Hayes all garnered recognition on a state level in New Jersey, Ritter and Ruhe emerged as two of the top prospects in their home state of Maryland and Klemme helped her teams secure a number of youth national championships in her native Germany.
As they looked to take the next step in their lives and playing careers, the prevailing sentiment behind their collective decisions to call South Orange home for the next four years was simple – the chance to play at the highest level of collegiate women’s soccer.
Amie Ruhe" src="http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/seha/sports/w-soccer/auto_action/9147818.jpeg" height="250" width="150" />“I chose Seton Hall because it presented a new and exciting opportunity,” said Ritter. “Playing DI soccer was always one of my dreams so when I was contacted, I couldn’t pass it up.”
“One of the main factors in my decision to come to Seton Hall was that it is in the BIG EAST Conference,” echoed Ruhe. “I wanted to play on a team that would face top competition.”
In the summer of 2010, the talented group joined a Pirates team that had managed just one win in conference the year before. Seton Hall saw its new additions pay dividends almost immediately, as in her second game in blue & white; Ruhe netted two goals including the game-winner in a 3-0 victory at Fairleigh Dickinson.
Ritter followed suit by collecting her first career tally next time out at Princeton, the first of five consecutive matches in which she found the back of the net, a previously unprecedented scoring run for a Seton Hall freshman.
The final game of the stretch ended as a victory over rival Rutgers; then ranked as the #24 team in the country. Ritter accounted for the lone goal in the game, a moment that over two years later, has not escaped her.
“That was probably my first big moment,” she said. “Looking up in the stands and seeing my mom’s eyes filled with tears was priceless. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Hayes would play the role of hero in the following match as Seton Hall extended its winning streak to three behind her first career strike in a 1-0 defeat of Binghamton. A fourth consecutive win came due in large part to a two-goal, one-assist performance from Ritter in a 3-0 drubbing of Villanova as the Pirates surpassed their conference win total and matched their overall number of victories from the year before just halfway through the 2010 season.
As is to be expected with a team that features so many freshmen – Clarke, Hayes, Ritter and Ruhe appeared in every game and Klemme in all but one – the Pirates underwent some growing pains through the remainder of the season.
There were however several moments that put the promise for the future on full display, including a Brittney Albrecht goal that put the finishing touches on a season-ending 3-1 victory over Cincinnati and the experienced gained in the process was invaluable.Marie Klemme" src="http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/seha/sports/w-soccer/auto_action/9147829.jpeg" height="250" width="150" />
“It was a great feeling to be given so much trust and responsibility right away,” said Klemme. “The coaching staff and the other players made it easy to settle into the squad and grow as an individual and contribute to the goals we had as a team.”
At year’s end, the conference took notice of the building blocks in place for Seton Hall and Ritter became just the fifth Pirate to be named to the All-BIG EAST Rookie Team after completing the year with seven goals, the seventh-highest single season total in school history, and ranking as the team’s leading scorer with 15 points.
With a year of ups and downs under their belt, the class of 2014 returned to camp in the next summer ready to elevate their games and help take the team to the next level.
“I have always tried to improve my skills from year to year,” explained Clarke who recorded two goals and two assists of her own in her inaugural season. “This level is very competitive so you can never be satisfied with just being good.”
The 2011 Pirates got off to an auspicious start, registering two wins and a tie in their first three contests. Contributions from a seasoned sophomore contingent were abundant from the outset, as Clarke assisted on a goal in a season-opening win over Fordham and Ritter picked up right where she had left off, scoring the Pirates’ only goal in each of the next two matches; a victory at Monmouth and draw vs. Lehigh.
After suffering their first loss of the year in a hard-fought match at Army, SHU put its next two in the win column, propelled by a set of youngsters that was growing more comfortable by the match.
Just 67 seconds into the match against Colgate, Clarke stepped up and converted on a penalty kick to provide a goal that proved to be the difference on the day. The Pirates followed that performance by defeating Princeton for just the second time in school history, with the win coming in thrilling fashion as Hayes, Ritter and Ruhe played starring roles.
SHU fell behind the Tigers in the 80th minute but less than 60 seconds later; Hayes brought her team back level with a picturesque strike that found the upper 90 from 35 yards out. With the game pressed into double overtime, Ruhe helped the Pirates take advantage of a mistake at the back by Princeton, sending a loose ball into the path of Ritter who eluded the keeper and buried the ball, and subsequently the Tigers, with the game-winning goal.
Katie Ritter" src="http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/seha/sports/w-soccer/auto_action/9147838.jpeg" height="250" width="150" />The Hall rode that momentum into the first two games of the conference schedule, both of which ended as victories. In the league opener against Georgetown, Ritter scored both of the team’s regulation goals before Taylor Wilson netted the overtime winner in a memorable 3-2 triumph for Seton Hall.
After shutting out Villanova, the Pirates were tripped up at West Virginia but quickly bounced back with a convincing win over Pittsburgh to move to 3-1 through four league games. During the 3-0 victory over the Panthers, Ritter collected her sixth goal of the season and Ruhe helped put the result out of doubt with an assist on the final goal of the day.
A three-game losing skid ensued, but during a crucial matchup with DePaul in their final home game of the season, the Pirates got a much needed boost from the duo of Albrecht and Clarke. With the game knotted at 1-1 in the second half, Albrecht was on the spot to pounce on a rebound and knock home the eventual game-winner. With less than 10 minutes to go, Clarke helped secure a pivotal three points in the chase for the postseason with her second goal of the year.
Faced with three tough road tests to end the regular season, the Pirates failed to grab results at Cincinnati and Louisville before heading to Piscataway to take on a revenge-minded Scarlet Knights squad. SHU got on the board first, thanks in part to an assist from Clarke and managed to post a 2-2 draw that propelled the Pirates into the postseason for the first time since 2006.
SHU went on to upend St. John’s in the first round of the 2011 BIG EAST Tournament, the second postseason win in program history. The team finished the year with a 9-8-3 record overall, the Pirates’ highest win total in over a decade.
When reviewing the results, it’s clear that the group of girls in question had indeed taken the next step. Five had appeared in all 20 contests with Klemme playing in 19, and together they had accounted for more than one-third of the team’s scoring. Ritter finished with six goals and was selected to the All-BIG EAST Third Team, joining international women’s soccer legend and SHU Hall of Famer Kelly Smith as the only Pirates to be named to the All-Rookie and All-Conference teams in their career.
SHU came up short of returning to the conference tournament in 2012, but the season saw breakout efforts from three members of this year’s senior class as Albrecht, Clarke and Klemme all posted career-high point totals.
The team shot out of the gates in 2012, winning its first five matches by a combined score of 10-1. Ashley Clarke" src="http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/seha/sports/w-soccer/auto_action/9147850.jpeg" height="250" width="150" />Ruhe scored while Clarke and Klemme each notched assists in a 2-0 defeat of LIU-Brooklyn that kicked off the run and the burgeoning group of juniors continued to provide the impetus in each of the subsequent victories during the season-opening streak.
Clarke recorded the lone goal in a shutout of Iona followed by a commanding performance at Lehigh that saw Albrecht assist Klemme on the decisive goal before adding an insurance tally of her own in a 2-0 victory. Albrecht, Klemme and Ritter all picked up assists while Clarke added two helpers as SHU returned home to score a 3-0 result over Monmouth in the fourth match of the season.
Hayes and the Seton Hall defense finally cracked for the first time in their fifth outing of the year but a goal from Klemme and an OT winner from Clarke helped the Pirates dig out of an early hole and secure another win.
SHU dropped its next four but the junior class had a hand in each goal the team scored during the stretch. Clarke and Ruhe both collected helpers as the skid ended with a 2-0 win against Villanova but the Pirates struggled to get results for the better part of the next month.
Brittney Albrecht" src="http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/seha/sports/w-soccer/auto_action/9147787.jpeg" height="250" width="150" />In the last home game of the season, the Seton Hall captured its final win of the year behind a monster night from Clarke (one goal, two assists) and three combined assists from Albrecht and Ritter that resulted in a 3-1 conquest of Cincinnati.
Over the course of the season, Clarke totaled eight assists – matching Kelly Smith for the most ever by a Pirate in a single season - Albrecht added six helpers, the third-highest single season mark in school history, and Ritter moved into fourth on the career goals lists with 16 to her name through three years.
After providing a steady presence through her first two seasons, Klemme also ramped up her scoring output, finishing third on the team with nine points (three goals, three assists) for the year.
In all, this year’s senior class was credited with 42 of the 62 points SHU accumulated last season and has accounted for over 50 percent of the team’s point total since stepping on campus as freshmen.
Given the statistics, the individual accolades and the team milestones that have come amid the ebbs and flows of their first three years in a Pirate uniform, the question entering the 2013 season is – what remains for the senior class?
Just days before they embark on their final go-around, the answer in their own words can be surmised concisely: a group eager to meet their own high expectations and prove preseason prognostications to be null and void in the process.
“I think we have what it takes to go deep into the tournament this year,” said Hayes.
“There is a lot I hope to accomplish this season,” added Ritter. “I have high expectations not only for myself, but the team as well…after 17 years of playing soccer, it’s time to go out with a bang.”