Over the past two seasons the Spring Hill College Lady Badgers have posted a combined 20-13-5 record and consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in program history. Many first-year head coaches might find following the most successful two-year run in school history to be daunting, but Daniel Whelan does not see his task in those terms at all. Instead, he believes he is inheriting a strong foundation on which to build a playoff contender and regional NAIA power.
Whelan believes first and foremost in a strong defense. "If you defend right you'll always be in the game," he says. "If you don't defend you don't have a chance. Of course, it always depends on the type of team you're playing as to how you approach your game plan, but defense is still key."
Luckily for the Badgers, their returning strengths fall right into line with their coach's philosophy. The defensive unit features two experienced players in seniors Allison Giles of St. Louis, Mo., and Leslie Rutkowski of Daphne, Ala. Giles and Rutkowski have been part of 13 shutouts by the Badgers defense over the past two seasons and look to continue the tradition of hardnosed play on the SHC backline. Also returning is sophomore Lorie Pendergast of St. Louis who started all 19 games for Spring Hill in 2008.
At goalkeeper, a real battle has emerged for the starting slot this year. Junior Jessica Makowski of Crestview, Fla., moved into the role in an emergency situation at the end last season and did an admirable job. Junior walk-on Emma Pitchford of Ridgeland, Miss., has been a pleasant surprise during the preseason workouts, however, and has made the decision as to who will start that much more difficult for Whelan.
Offensively, the Lady Badgers have lost 65% of their scoring punch from 2008, but Whelan is not concerned. With 18 starts under her belt in 2008, sophomore Abby Galen of St. Louis is the leading returning goal-scorer. "Abby makes us tick," says Whelan. "She creates chances for us and continually puts pressure on the other team."
Sophomore Allison Akers of Houston, Texas, returns after a successful freshman season in which she started six matches and scored four goals. Sophomore Catie Palmer from Newnan, Ga., played in 18 contests with four starts last season and should be ready to step into the offense plans this season. Walk-on junior Jade Beason from Cincinnati, Ohio, will be a contributor this season as well.
The midfield will be a crucial theater in the 2009 campaign and Whelan expects big things from incoming freshman Sarah Uptmor of Cape Girardeau, Mo. "Sarah will make a huge impact right away," he says. Joining Uptmor will be two experienced returnees in sophomore Katie Pendergast of St. Louis who started 16 of 19 games for Spring Hill last season and sophomore Elaine Femmer of St. Louis who returns to the lineup after missing most of 2008 with a knee injury. "It's nice to have Elaine back," says Whelan. "It's like getting another new player, but with experience."
Juniors Meaux Homburg of Slidell, La., Dani Arce of Miami, Fla., and sophomore Rachel Nance of St. Louis will add much-needed depth to the squad this year as each saw playing time last season. Newcomers freshman Savanna Sablich and junior college transfer Lara Menke of St. Louis will also be pressed into service early as Spring Hill enters the year with 17 players on its roster.
"We have a lot talent," Whelan says when asked about the new season's outlook. "There's a very good team chemistry, but numbers-wise there are not the best options. With just 17 players we'll have to stay healthy. It's a tough schedule especially the first five games. We have some true national powers on the schedule this year, but I think we can answer the challenge."
The Spring Hill College women open the 2009 season at home on Saturday versus Brenau University from Gainesville, Ga., beginning at 4 p.m.