WILLIAMSTOWN, MA -- The Williams College women's soccer team finished 18-1-2 in 2016, and has won 60 of its last 69 games dating back to 2014 while losing only four.
So while it might not seem like the time for a system overhaul, that is just what Ephs' head coach Michelyne Pinard and her staff set about doing in the offseason.
Williams lost eight seniors to graduation, including All-Americans and all-time leading scorers Kristi Kirshe and Audrey Thomas, leading Pinard -- back for her 16th season -- and company to set about thinking of ways to utilize the current roster to the best of its capabilities.
"We feel like we've attacked centrally really effectively, but we haven't used our flank space effectively," Pinard said. "Kirshe and Audrey took a lot of attention (from our opponents). So it will feel differently, we're tweaking our system so we can rely on everyone to think of themselves on attack. We don't want and cannot rely on one or two people. We want all 11 people on the field playing on the same page and communicating more -- that's not easy to do when you're playing a game seven days after your first practice."
The Ephs' will be led by a six-member senior class that includes tri-captains Danielle Sim, a preseason All-American in the back, Evan Gancedo, a NSCAA All-New England selection, in the midfield, and Jacqueline Simeone, another midfield/forward standout. It also includes midfielder-forward Natasha Albaneze, midfielder Kate Sands, and forward Hanna Kaeser -- back after missing her junior year.
"What we continually try and do is really create a sense of ownership and responsibility -- along with a sense of purpose -- throughout all our classes," Pinard said. "We put a lot of emphasis on that in addition to the team experience and the soccer specific championships. I think what is prevalent on this team is a sense of cohesiveness throughout the whole group. There is no top down leadership."
Pinard will also have a nine-person junior class with plenty of experience that includes goalkeeper Olivia Barnhill, a NSCAA First Team All-New England selection last year after playing in a 21 games and posting an .836 save percentage and a 0.60 goals against average. She'll be joined by back Katelyn Long, forward Kristina Alvarado, midfielder-forward Madison Feeney, midfielders Natalie Turner-Wyatt and Lauren Brown, back Dawn Penso -- and former reserve team members/managers Ana Alvarenga and Sarah Hollinger.
Pinard will have eight sophomores, including the top two returning scorers from the 2016 team in forwards Alison Lu (12 goals, 6 assists, 30 points) and Sarah Scire (8 goals, 5 assists, 21 points). Also in that group are back Sarah Kelly, who played in all 21 games as a first-year with 13 starts, back Nkem Iregbulem, midfielder-back Erika Jung, goalkeeper Whitney Lincoln and midfielders Liz Webber and Campbell Day.
The first-year class includes seven student-athletes adding depth and hoping to make an impact. The group consists of goalkeeper Lindsay Avant, midfielders Mikayala Kappes, Victoria Laino, Ilana Albert and Aspen Pierson, back-midfielder Georgia Lord and forward Sydney Jones.
"It's an exciting group for sure," Pinard said. "There is a lot of ability and a lot of potential. But with first years, the transition is very challenging."
Despite the loss of Thomas and Kirshe up front, the Ephs do have five of their seven top scorers from a year ago back on the pitch. In addition to Lu and Scire, that includes Alvarado, Gancedo and Turner-Wyatt, who each scored four. In fact, nine of the 11 players who saw action in all 21 games are back, and five of the six who started all 21 return, so Pinard has a great deal of experience on her roster of 28. No less than 16 players saw action in 13 or more games.
Still, creating a system in which the most student-athletes are utilizing the most of their talent takes time, commitment and creativity.
"Our focus is on creating the right system for us," Pinard said. "This team is very invested in how we can do that. We're not thinking about results or championships, our focus is more on how we're going to get there."
The Ephs regular season begins Wednesday, as they open against conference rival Hamilton at home on Cole Field. Game time is slated for 4 p.m.