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Women’s soccer adjusts to role as team to beat

Women's soccer was picked to finish second in the America East in a preseason poll. (Photo: Sam Kilb)

The Stony Brook University women’s soccer team is coming off another strong season, having made it to the conference semifinals for the third straight year. With nine returning starters, including 2009 America East Rookie of the Year Sa’sha Kershaw, the Seawolves find themselves in a new role:  being one of the teams to beat this season.

“We were in a position before where we were hunting teams in front of us,” head coach Sue Ryan said. “Now everyone is going to want to play their best game against us, so we are going to have to be a lot more consistent in our play.”

Consistency, elusive in 2009, will be key to a successful season for Stony Brook this year. Last season, the Seawolves played then- #23 Rutgers to a tie and finished with a 5-2-1 conference record, including a win over Boston University that ended the Terriers’ 22-game conference winning streak. However the team struggled with its difficult nonconference schedule, posting a 2-8-1 record and losing its final two conference games. In the playoffs, Boston avenged their regular season loss by ousting Stony Brook in the semifinal round of the conference championship.

Coming into this year the team’s goal is to compete deep into the NCAA season, according to Ryan. Ryan makes it a point to subject her team to a difficult nonconference schedule with the hope that it will not just make the team better equipped to win the conference, but to win NCAA games as well.

“It’s always the same, most teams want to win the conference and use your nonconference games to ready yourself to win the conference,” said Ryan. “But as you start getting better you want not just to win the conference and play in the NCAA games you want to win the NCAA games.”

In the preseason, the Seawolves were picked to finish second in the conference by a poll of America East coaches. Second in this poll is an impressive feat, as the team picked in front of them–Boston University–has won the America East crown in each of the past three years.

It’s not hard to understand why there are lofty expectations for Stony Brook this year.  They’re returning the vast majority of starters including sophomore midfielder Taryn Schoenbeck (1 goal, 3 assists in 2009) and last year’s leading goalscorer Kershaw (6 goals, 2 assists in 2009), who each earned a spot on the conference All-Rookie team and now have a full season under their belts.

Ryan said the new class of recruits is possibly the team’s best ever and said thanks go to head recruiter and associate head coach Steve Welham, who is solely in charge of the recruiting process.

Of the new recruits, Ryan said that goalkeeper Ashley Castanio, a local product out of Oceanside High School in Nassau County, may have an immediate impact this season as she competes for the starting goalkeeper position vacated by recently graduated Marisa Viola, who broke the program record for career shutouts during the 2009 season. (Freshman Chelsea Morales earned the start in the season opener.)

The Seawolves also hired a new assistant coach, Heather Hathorn, from UC-Irvine, where she was also an assistant. Coach Ryan, who is heading into her 26th year as head coach of the women’s soccer team, said that it is great having another set of eyes to watch the players, run training sessions and meet with players.

An injury-free preseason set the Seawolves up for a rematch of last fall’s 1-1 tie against Rutgers. Ryan said she expected Rutgers to come out with a chip on their shoulder.

“I think they’re going to have a little bit of a grudge against us,” said Ryan. “It was a bitter pill for them to swallow and we held on for the tie so I think that will be addressed in their pre-game locker room talk.”

Rutgers earned their revenge, taking a 3-0 victory over the Seawolves, who managed just one shot. Stony Brook’s next match is its home opener on Friday, August 27 against Siena.

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