WILLIAMSTOWN, MA — How do you communicate to a team that you believe in it, despite the fact it has lost nine members to graduation?
Michelyne Pinard, head coach of women's soccer at Williams, did it by constructing one of the toughest schedules imaginable for her 2011 team, which, despite the loss of nine, brings back a lot of talent from a squad which finished 15-4-2, won a fourth consecutive NESCAC championship, and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Div. III NCAA Tournament.
"This is one of the toughest schedules we've ever had and I wanted it that way," Pinard said. "I wanted our young kids to see what the best of the best looks like, because I want them to know why we're training so hard, why practice is as intense as it is. I wanted them to know we can compete at that level, and I also wanted to them to understand how good I believe they can be even with the loss of nine graduating seniors."
Even if you put aside a daunting conference schedule that includes the likes of Amherst, Middlebury, Tufts and others, when you take a look at the four non-conference games, you'll understand what Pinard is talking about.
Williams will welcome national runner-up Messiah, ranked No. 2 in the NCAA Div. III preseason poll, as well as No. 13 Oneonta State, on back-to-back days this fall. The Ephs will also face No. 22 Wheaton in addition to traditional in-region rival Springfield.
"We're trying on a daily basis to compete at the highest level possible and let the results take care of themselves," Pinard said. "We respect the game and our opponents a great deal."
|Nicole Stenquist '12|
The Ephs are 117-28-17 (.775) in Pinard's nine years at the helm of the program.
Leading the Ephs into the season will be senior tri-captains Brett Eisenhart, Nicole Stenquist and Sachi Siegelman. Both Eisenhart, the Ephs' second-leading scorer in 2010 with 12 goals and 2 assists (26 points), and Siegelman, who helped Williams' anchor its defensive back, were All-New England selections last year. Stenquist had one goal and one assist from her midfield position.
"All three seniors are some of the most competitive, driven people I've ever worked with," Pinard said. "I believe they're ready and excited to lead this group, and they're also all very talented. They're a small group, but one which has already had a huge impact on our program."
With a small senior class and a large class having graduated, the Ephs' junior class will play a critical role this season. Midfielder Caitlyn Clark was second on the squad in 2010 with seven assists, while midfielder Kristine Nakada notched four goals and one assist and forward Bridget Gallagher accounted for three goals and three assists. Chelsea Davies is a key component of the Ephs' backfield, and Chloe Kuh will be another key midfielder. Williams also gets a boost with the return of Sam Vilaboa, who missed last year with an injury but scored five goals and added three assists as a first year in 2009.
Possibly the role in the spotlight the most this fall will be that of goalkeeper, where junior Laura Wann takes over for the departed Julia Schreieber. Wann and Schreiber split the duties in 2010, although an early-season illness limited Wann's overall minutes. Still, she finished with a sparkling .862 save percentage and a 0.50 goals against average.
Williams allowed only 15 goals in 19 games last season while scoring 44.
"I think our goalkeeping is in good hands," Pinard noted. "Laura has a wealth of experience already and she's excited to step up and lead from the back."
Pinard also expects to get a lot of productions out of sophomores Carla Nicasio, Hayley Cook and
|Sachi Siegelman '1|
Kelsey Gauger. Nicasio began her first collegiate season as a midfielder but was starting in the back by the end of the season, while Cook registered five assists from her midfield spot.
Throw in a talented first-year class of 10, and Pinard sees a lot to work with.
"We lost a lot of athleticism, so I think we're going to look different this season, but I do think we're going to be a little bit quicker, a little more technical and better at exploiting our opponents' weaknesses," she said. "We're hoping to be even more dynamic. I think we have experience in all facets of the game, with young kids who are going to have to complement our returning players."
Pinard is certain of one thing: Her Ephs will need contributions from each and every one of the 23 players she is carrying this season to get through the rigors of the schedule and the difficult conference slate.
"Where we've been strong in the past has been our depth and I think we have some good depth this season, but we also need to figure out how the first years will fit into the puzzle," she noted.