Aug 21, 2013
SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. - 2013 will mark the beginning of a new chapter in the 19-year history of women's soccer at Seton Hall as the Pirates prepare to start their first year of competition in the revamped BIG EAST Conference.
Gone are traditional national powers Louisville and Notre Dame but from top to bottom, the league remains one of the most competitive in the country. 2012 conference championship game participants and league holdovers Marquette and Georgetown have been selected by the coaches to finish first and second respectively in the new 10-team format that has brought a transition to a round-robin style schedule, a departure from the two division system the league previously employed.
The Pirates return 20 players, including seven of the team's top-eight scorers, from a squad that set the standard for the best start in school history and finished with seven victories a year ago.
SHU has been selected to finish eighth in its first campaign as part of the new look conference but seventh-year head coach Kazbek Tambi and his squad filled with seasoned veterans and talented newcomers have designs on far exceeding those expectations.
Any charge that sees The Hall climb near the top of the conference standings will most likely be fueled by the team's group of seven players that will each be suiting up for their fourth season in a Pirate uniform.
The class of 2014 features six student-athletes who have already left a significant imprint on the program in their first three years on campus and are eager to elevate their games as well as the team during their final season.
Midfielder Ashley Clarke (Paramus, N.J.) hasn't skipped a beat after finishing as the Pirates leading scorer and matching women's soccer icon and for Seton Hall great Kelly Smith's single-season assist record last season. Clarke continued to display the all-conference worthy form in SHU's two preseason exhibition matches, playing a central role in a majority of the scoring chances the team created over the span that saw the team coast to wins over Drexel and Rider by a combined score of 9-2.
She enters the season just two assists shy of moving into second on the school's all-time list and needs just three points to crack the top-10 in program history in career points.
Another senior looking to continue to climb the school's all-time ranks is forward Katie Ritter (Hagerstown, Md.) who regained her prolific scoring touch during the latter part of last season. Ritter finished 2012 with three goals, increasing her career tally to 16, the fourth-highest total by any Pirate. She also added two assists on the year to bring her career total to 35; ranking her sixth in the school record book.
Midfielders Brittney Albrecht (Mahwah, N.J.) and Marie Klemme (Berlin, Germany) are coming off breakthrough performances as juniors, and will look to continue to provide additional attacking threats for a team looking to improve on last year's 1.00 goals/game average.
Like her midfield partner Clarke, Albrecht also displayed an impressive ability to provide final service, registering six assists a year ago. She also added a goal to finish fourth on the team with eight points, one point behind Klemme who picked up three goals and three assists after entering 2012 with just one career assist to her name.
When healthy, fellow midfielder and classmate Amie Ruhe (Monrovia, Md.) was a consistent presence in the SHU starting XI, as she was penciled into the starting lineup in all 14 games in which she appeared. The stretch continued a trend that has held true since her freshman year as she played in every game for the Pirates over her first two seasons, starting all but two.
Despite seeing limited action, Ruhe remained one of the team's most active offensive forces, finishing in the top-five on the team in both shots and shots on goal.
The final member of this year's senior class has also been remarkably reliable over the last three years. Meghan Hayes (Fredon, N.J.) has played in every game but one since joining the Pirates in 2010 and will be looked upon to provide leadership at the back this season. Hayes has primarily served as a defender in her career, but does have two goals on her ledger and found the back of the net in each of the Pirates' exhibitions leading up to the 2013 season.
Providing even more stability is the return of goalkeeper Jennifer Pettigrew (Kearny, N.J.) who will rejoin the squad after missing her senior season due to a knee injury. Pettigrew stands as one of the most decorated keepers ever to step between the posts at The Hall, ranking in the top-five all-time in saves, shutouts, goals against average and minutes played.
She is also just one of three SHU keepers to earn All-BIG EAST honors, having earned third-team recognition in 2010.
Together, the group has combined to play in over 300 games at Seton Hall, accruing a wealth of experience that their coach believes will prove to be a valuable asset.
"Our senior class is going to be very important to what we are trying to do this year," said Tambi. "To this point in their careers they have endured some good times and also some difficult ones - they have experienced the highs of making it to the postseason and advancing but have also battled through injuries and tough results. I think that has made them stronger and the knowledge that they have gained is going to go a long way. I know they are eager to pass some of that along to our freshmen which is only going to make them better as well."
SHU also brings back further reinforcements in the attack in juniors Kristina Meier (Paramus, N.J.) and Angie Shehaj (East Brunswick, N.J.), each of whom got on the score sheet last season for the Pirates.
A pair of players in Christie Cherup (Wayne, N.J.) and Rachel Friedman (Bridgewater, N.J.) will also figure into the deep rotation, looking to assume a larger role after logging 15 and 13 appearances respectively in 2012.
Juniors Mikayla Hickey (Salem, N.H.), Alyssa Stipcak (Mt. Airy Md.) and redshirt sophomore Kristin Kosch (Mahwah, N.J.) will provide further flexibility at a variety of positions, a testament to the depth the Pirates will enjoy in 2013.
At the back, the sophomore duo of D'Yonna Riley (Washingtonville, N.Y.) and Alexis Urbanski (Aberdeen, N.J.) will look to build on debut seasons in which they played a major role in the team's defensive effort. Both displayed an ability to join the attack as well when given the opportunity, as each picked up an assist during the year.
Urbanski played in 18 contests while Riley impressed in 17 appearances, taking home BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Week honors after her first week in a Pirate uniform and earning one of nine invites given to collegiate players for the U-20 U.S. National Team camp that was held after the season.
The second-year trio of Melissa Blevins (Laurel Springs, N.J.), Emily Hansinger (Mount Laurel, N.J.) and goalkeeper Gina Maiorana (Street, Md.) will provide Tambi with additional options at the back after collecting valuable in-game experience as freshmen.
Maiorana was steady in net for The Hall after being thrust into action early on, leading the squad with four shutouts and posting a 5-3-0 record in 11 games played as a freshman while Blevins and Hansinger will look to help fill the void left by the graduation of longtime defensive staples Cristina Barthel and Taylor Mims.
As Seton Hall will rely on its seven most senior members to provide a strong leadership influence, an abundance of optimism surrounds SHU's eight newcomers and their potential to be difference makers from day one.
With a distinct New Jersey flavor, seven of the new additions are former Garden State standouts at the high school level. Forward Sarah Cortes (Paramus, N.J.), midfielder Frankie Maier (Oradell, N.J.) and St. Bonaventure transfer Amanda Gulli (Toms River, N.J.), who will be entering her second collegiate season, all figured prominently in Seton Hall's offensive onslaught during the preseason.
Cathy Chukuka (Malboro, N.J.), Sarah Fiorino (Glen Rock, N.J.) and Meg Larsen (Toms River, N.J.) all join the defensive ranks as SHU aims to replicate last season's unprecedented run that saw the team start the season with four consecutive clean sheets.
Local product Illissa Blackshear (West Orange, N.J.) will be looking to add some clean sheets of her own as she joins Stephanie Heber (Rochester Hills, Mich.) as the new faces in goal for The Hall.
Both Blackshear and Heber saw action in the preseason, with neither allowing a goal as the tandem will add to a growing collection of skilled keepers at The Hall that also includes Pettigrew, Maiorana and Peggy Nicolle (Wenonah, N.J.)
With a wealth of players that know the rigors of a BIG EAST schedule all too well in place to guide them, Tambi sees no reason why the newest Pirates can't excel from the first whistle.
"We're very excited about this freshman class and everybody we have added this year," he said. "We feel like we were able to address every position and we really brought in a very talented group that can make an impact for us right off the bat."
With an accomplished senior class supplemented by experienced returnees and a talented crop of new faces, SHU is primed to write its own narrative in this, the first chapter of a new era in BIG EAST competition.
"We don't put a great amount of stock in preseason rankings, but maybe being picked eighth will give our girls some more incentive to go out there and show people what they are all capable of," he said. "Our kids are pushing to take advantage of the opportunities we have in front of us this year and they're all working very hard together to prove we can be one of the top teams in the league."
The 2013 Seton Hall women's soccer team will get its season underway this Friday, August 23 when they host Stony Brook at Owen T. Carroll Field. Start-time is set for 7:00 p.m. as the game will follow a men's soccer exhibition match against TCNJ that is slated to begin at 3:00 p.m.