Gonzaga women’s soccer coach Amy Edwards hopes a veteran lineup will help move the Bulldogs up the West Coast Conference standings this season.
“I am really looking forward to enjoying the leadership of this special senior class and the tremendous talent level within our program,” said Edwards, now in her sixth year.
She won’t have to wait long: the Bulldogs (7-11-1 overall and 3-6 in the WCC) will be tested on the road this week with games today at Cal State Bakersfield and Sunday at Fresno State. Eight more nonconference matches, including a Sept. 12 home date against Washington State, wait before WCC play opens on Oct. 3.
Among the returning veterans are the Bulldogs’ top four scorers, led by sophomore forward Karley Baggerly, a WCC honorable mention pick, who tied for the team lead with six goals and paced the Bulldogs in scoring with 15 points.
Junior Heather Johnson, a second-team All-WCC selection, also netted six goals; also back are senior midfielders Tori Lee and Kasey Rubosky.
The Bulldogs return three senior defenders in Cricket Harber, Katey Pennington and Jordan Travis, plus junior goalkeeper Christie Tombari, who had a 1.46 goals-against average.
“With only four incoming players, we have been able to refine our tactical philosophies during training camp instead of teaching so many new players our system and style of play,” Edwards said.
Even with six starters and 11 letter-winners returning from last year, the Eagles have a lot of new faces.
The biggest is new coach Chad Bodnar, who comes to Cheney after posting an astounding 210-15-11 record and three conference championships at Walla Walla CC.
Eastern also welcomes 14 newcomers as it tries to rebound from a season that saw the Eagles go 1-8 in the Big Sky Conference and 3-15 overall.
“Right now our biggest challenge is understanding everyone’s roles and what they contribute to the group,” said Bodnar, who also brings two new assistants in Max Weber and Rich Cullen. “It’s all new, it’s very different and it’s going to take time.”
The returning starters include senior forward Cassie Black – EWU’s career scoring leader – senior defenders Kayla Sutter, Katie Cashman and Jessica Wallace; and senior keeper Nathalie Schwery.
The Eagles also return veteran midfielders Haley Stading and Marianne Johnson.
The Vandals have a new coach and also a change of scenery.
After 19 years, Idaho returns to the Big Sky Conference, but new coach Derek Pittman’s biggest challenge may be blending 11 newcomers and 14 returning players into a cohesive group.
We have to figure out where everybody is going to fit on the field, allowing us to produce a winning lineup,” Pittman said.
“Everybody will have a part to play and we will figure that out now and ease into the double days with a lot of playing – that is what every player loves to do,” Pittman said.
Last year, the Vandals went 4-8 in the Western Athletic Conference and 4-16 overall. They’re picked to finish ninth in the 11-team Big Sky, one spot ahead of Eastern Washington.
The teams will renew their old conference rivalry on Oct. 12 in Cheney.
Seven season-ending injuries in 2013 led to major reshuffling of the lineup for head coach Jael Hagerott in 2013, when the Pirates finished 7-7-6 overall and 4-6-6 in the Northwest Conference.
Whitworth returns leading scorer Tiara Pajimola, a junior out of Shadle Park, who had seven goals and an assist last fall. Also back is two-year starting goalkeeper Andrea Stump, who posted eight shutouts last year.
Sophomore defender Hannah Langbehn played the second most minutes of any Pirate last season and will provide stability on the back line. Pajimola and Langbehn were two of only three Pirates who were able to start every match.
Whitworth opens the season at home against UC Santa Cruz on Aug. 29.
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