JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (January 5, 2004) - East Tennessee State University women's soccer team took yet another step in the right direction this year ending the 2003 season with the best record in the history of the program 12-6 overall, 7-4 in Southern Conference. This record saw the Buccaneers overcame a preseason ranking of 11th to finish tied for fourth place in the conference, marking their highest finish ever.
The 2003 campaign saw many Buccaneers make great contributions as the team itself broke several records. The Bucs' attack saw great improvements tallying 38 goals, while sophomore Erin Ashton netted 10, leading the team for the second straight year, and seeing 11 out of the 16 field players contribute. Not only did the Bucs explode offensively, but also senior Heather Sanden and the rest of the defense got much stingier only allowing 19 goals during their 18 games.
The team played a very competitive season and battled through a tough Southern Conference recording first ever wins over five SoCon opponents including College of Charleston, Davidson, Georgia Southern, Western Carolina and first-year member Elon. Four of the six losses were by one goal, and three of those four losses came in overtime games.
This year's team has also garnered many individual and team awards. Erin Ashton brought home several awards including SoCon All-Conference second team, 2003 Academic All-District IV First Team and joined teammates, junior Jen Fields and sophomore Meghan Morris on the Academic All-SoCon Team.
The Bucs say Farewell to its Seniors
"Heather and Dre' (Andrea Brown) finished their careers with a powerful statement of their character and dedication to our program" said Coach Henson. "Four years ago these young ladies believed that they could play a role in helping build this program and they leave having left their touch. Their dedication and leadership made a strong impression on a team that was made up of two juniors, five sophomores, and 10 freshmen that helped make this a great season."
Heather Sanden will leave holding practically every possible record. She finished her career with the lowest goals against average in the history of the program with 1.94 for her career and 1.03 for the 2003 season. This season she also set the shutout record for a single season with five and for a career with 11. Sanden started all 18 of the Buccaneers' contest and recorded 119 saves putting her first in the record books with 492 career saves.
"Heather has developed in to a tremendous keeper and an even better person. She has the ability to make difficult saves look easy and great saves when needed. Her presence on the field was felt throughout our team."
"Andrea had a great season for us this year. She did a tremendous job balancing solid defending in the midfield with timely attacking as she notched a couple game-winning goals. Her leadership helped to blend the team both on and off the field. She is truly an unspoken hero."
Henson felt that, "This senior class has learned from those who came before them and passed on many of those qualities to the classes to come. I am proud for them and the things they have accomplished."
Beyond the Field:
"We try to teach our team about more than just soccer; it is about becoming a complete person." The Buccaneer women's soccer team is well-rounded having participated in many community services and excelling academically.
"When you talk about being a complete person; I feel you have to be willing to give back to the game and this is why we take our community service very serious. We have done several clinics for youth in the surrounding area, we have several players both past and present who are active with local churches and we are currently planning activities for the spring. Now that we are not a our competitive season we will look for more opportunities to touch as many young people has possible."
"The young ladies that are in our program understand that we strive to balance academics and athletics," stated Henson.
At the close of the season the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) announced the ETSU's women's soccer program was recognized as an NSCAA Academic Team Award. The team posted a 3.10 average GPA for the 2002-03 school year to earn the honor. This is the third consecutive year the team has received the award and the fourth consecutive year that the team has posted an average GPA of 3.0 or higher.
Individually the team has also seen academic success with the three players, Erin Ashton, Jennifer Fields, and Meghan Morris being recently named to the Academic All-SoCon team for the fall of 2003. Ashton was also tabbed as a member of the 2003 Academic All-District IV First Team.
"The young ladies in our program understand that academics and athletics can go together," said Henson. "We have been honored as a team and as individual, which I feel is a great example of our players expectations for themselves as well as the support they get from our athletic department and academic community as a whole."
Q & A with ETSU Head Coach Heather Henson
Q: What is your impression of the 2003 season overall?
A: We had some great accomplishments as a team and took some big steps for a program. I think we saw a lot of hard work begin to pay off; finishing tied for fourth was a big jump for our program in a very tough conference.
This team is exactly that a team. No one player was expected to carry to load by themselves but to support each other and let things happen and what we saw was a lot more dynamic and diverse attack.
Defensively, they understood that it was about defending as a team and did a good job of it. Meghan Morris and Jennifer Fields did a great job anchoring the defense with Kerri Burke, Trista Haupt, Blair DeGraw, and JoAnne Lott making great contributions. I cannot say enough about what it means defensively to have had Heather Sanden in goal for us. She sets the tone.
At times, the season was extremely intense and it took its toll mentally and physically on our young team. We got tired and just did not have what we needed at the end of the season to finish what we started.
Q: How did the season compare to your expectations?
A: It was a jump and I was pleasantly surprised. The expectation is to make the largest jump you can every year. Once I saw the players arrive at preseason, I saw the expectations that we as a team had, could become a reality, because they came in fit and were intense in their training.
The new players were catching on and had the background and tactical understanding to grasp what we were trying to accomplish, solidifying the reasons that they were recruited. Then it became an issue of how quickly the team could mesh and the team did an unbelievable job of working together with having 10 of the 19 players being freshman. It was exciting to see 10 freshman and 9 returnees come together so quickly. I didn't expect them to mesh as early in the season bringing in 10 freshmen, but the whole team opened up to each other and started to connect early in the season.
Q: Comment on some of the individual play of the upperclassman and freshmen this season?
A: For upperclassman, Jennifer Fields really took her game to the next level making herself a much more complete player by finding a balance in her attacking tendency and her work rate on defense. This growth gave us an opportunity to let her step into the attack from the back and create for herself and others.
We had two sophomores who put together another great season Erin Ashton, who we have discussed before, and Meghan Morris, who is a rock in the back. "Mo" as we call Meghan gives us everything every time she steps on the pitch. Her desire to win and composure under pressure has been a big part of the growing strength of our defense.
Numerous freshmen stepped up when called upon I can't say enough for the attitude that they brought to the season. Emily Fulcher and Rebecca Murray are more noted for the attacking things that they have done, because those are the stats that are easy to read, but these ladies along with several other ladies took care of the details at crucial times. Alexandra Schwark, Blair Degraw, and Trista Haupt may not show up in the stats a lot but played large roles in our success by doing what ever was asked of them when it was asked.
Emily brought a great composure on the ball, an uncanny knack for finishing combined with her hardnosed style of play that allowed us to play her in many positions. She stepped into the central midfield position and worked well with Andrea Brown that gave us much flexibility and added attack.
We utilized Rebecca Murray in two positions as a freshman as a frontrunner and as an outside mid. We were able to utilize her energy, explosiveness and aggressiveness to get to balls and to put those balls into the attacking third. Her play made us a more attacking and creative team.
Alexandra Schwark did an unbelievable job for us. She had great timing with her runs, balanced the defense, created openings and opportunities for us in the middle and attacking thirds to maintain possession and created opportunities by maintaining her position tactically on the field.
Additionally, Blair DeGraw and Trista Haupt stepped into key defensive roles and gave us great performances. Blair showed great composure on the ball and an instinct for getting into the attack. She is a hard defender, who fought through an injury in the middle of the season to finish strong. Trista is another play who's versatility saw her playing all over the field. She is also the player who drew special marking assignments when we needed it. Trista is a consistent player everyday. I feel these to young ladies along with JoAnne Lott who gave us some important minutes meshed well with Jen Fields, Meghan Morris, and Kerri Burke.
When you talk about players that did what they were asked two players that saved their best for last was Kerri Burke and Lindsay Hoffman; these two ladies came through with important goals in the last seconds that made a big difference late in our season. Kerri stepped out of her normal outside back position to help add a little more physical play in the attacking third. Two more players that did what the team needed and set the tone for what was expected to be successful were Katherine Gentry and Lauren Kulish. Katherine is an extremely smart player who is probably one of our best situational players, who has the ability to be extremely creative. Lauren is another player that gives us great versatility and the ability to make game changing decisions on the fly.
Catherine Olsen battled through a tough injury that kept her from having the type of season we expected. She had a great spring last year and came in playing very well to camp, but suffered an injury that slowed her all season. She is healthy now and we expect her focus to get her back to play good soccer. Alana Retseck came into the program with a great deal of potential and is improving everyday. I look forward to seeing how far she can go with her natural gifts.
Q: How did the team deal with reaching new heights in the program?
A: It is hard to say because this is what they expected and came here to do. We battled and wanted to show everyone that we are a better team each year. We got caught a couple of times, being a youthful team. We became content and found ourselves in tough situations in certain games. Being content causes mistakes that should not happen and each time we made those mistakes we learned from them for our next match. As a team overall we want to continue to get stronger so we see fewer mistakes. As a team we knew we could get better every game and we have to get older and more mature to achieve our ultimate goals.
Q: What specific things helped the team reach this level this season?
A: Last spring we worked a lot on our attacking game: utilizing our team to attack together in numbers, taking risks and moving forward. We stressed fitness and conditioning as well and our returning playing took those things with them over the summer, while our freshmen knew to come in fit. When the team reported into preseason this year our overall fitness level was extremely high and we were very proud of how the entire team came in ready to compete. That fitness level gave us the ability to take steps forward and go into the tactical scenarios, which gave us a jump on what we had in previous years.
The team realized how important fitness would be throughout the season. Their preparation in the summer as well as their continued fitness sessions through the season helped to give us positive results in games. We had six overtime games and were able to convert half of those to produce wins.
Q: What are the plans for the off-season?
A: We will meet as a team when we come back in a couple of weeks; discuss and set goals together because I believe goals should be team oriented not coach mandated. We all need to believe in the same goals and be dedicated to the process. Through the season and in our individual meetings with the players there have been several common themes and areas that have arisen as things they feel we need to work on, to be the team we want to be in the future.
This spring will see us continue to work on our speed and conditioning because that has been a huge plus for us. Another area we want to continue to build is the mental side of the game. We will concentrate on our individual skill sessions; that have proven to be extremely beneficial to the development of our players and team. Then we will incorporate those skills into the team sessions and add the tactical elements.
We also want to continue to work on being more creative in the attacking third and giving our finishers more opportunities to put the ball in the back of the net. In the toughest games we played, we did not have those opportunities. We need to focus on taking care of details and putting the ball in the back of the net when those limited chances come.