Spring Hill College Women's Soccer Head Coach Christian DeVries begins his second year on the Hill with a young team. The Badgers return only six seniors on a 22-woman roster with the remaining 16 players consisting of five sophomores and 11 freshmen. "Because of how much playing time the sophomores received last year, we're actually a mixture of young and old players," he says. "But we are mostly a young team." Even so, DeVries sees this year's team as being faster and more technically sound than his first SHC edition.
DeVries points to his improved defense as support of his optimism. "Our improved defense is going to allow our offense to convert to a more attacking style," he says. "We have two veteran players in senior Lorie Pendergast from St. Louis, Mo., and Molly Cowley of Jefferson City, Mo., taking charge of the defense." Cowley, a sophomore, played more minutes than any other Badger in 2010 and has earned her coach's title of ‘veteran' player at a young age. This year she moves from her outside spot to the critical center defense position.
Also on defense, sophomore Erin Murphy of O'Fallon, Mo., along with freshmen Tatiana Gonzalez of Ocean Springs, Miss., and Haley Funderburg of Pell City, Ala., brings increased speed and technical ability to the Spring Hill ramparts. DeVries says, "One thing that is strikingly different with this team over the past is our depth. Even with the normal bumps and bruises of the preseason workouts, we've been able to remain a cohesive unit on the field."
The Badgers will be young at the goalkeeper position as sophomore Cassandra Amore of Pace, Fla., and freshman Abby Massengale from New Orleans, La., battle for the starting job. "Our defense will be good enough this year that I'm not too worried about young keepers stepping in," says DeVries. "They won't have to be superstars simply because they won't face the pressure that they would have in past years. As long as they keep things basic, they should have time to grow and learn."
Spring Hill will use its greater speed and quickness to create a more attacking style of offense. "We will have many more options this year," DeVries says. "Senior forward Elaine Femmer of St. Louis has moved to the outside while fellow senior Amber O'Connor of Ham Lake, Minn., has shifted up top. Megan Fox of Niceville, Fla., is a fast player and Erin Claxton from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, is a tremendous technical player. Those two freshmen will make a real difference in our ability run our style of offense with senior Katie Pendergast of St. Louis bringing her four years of experience to the front line."
Spring Hill will still be looking to get stronger in the midfield this year, but DeVries is confident and sees his team learning to control the ball and the time of possession. "The ‘St. Louis Super Sisters' of senior Abby and freshman Madeline Galen are playing well together," he says. "Madeline has really stepped up her play and conditioning while Abby is a 4-year starter, so that relationship has been fun to watch. Our system of play is going to be different this year, but our style of play will be the same. We'll possess the ball and move it around while getting the ball into the attacking third more often."
The 2011 schedule offers the young Badgers little respite as DeVries readies his team for the grueling schedule of Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) play. "The SSAC has four teams rated in the NAIA Preseason Top 25 including three in the Top 15," he says. "Our non-conference schedule is purposely designed to get us ready for that challenge. We'll face NCAA Division 1 member Nicholls State, traditional Division 2 powerhouse West Florida and a very good Lyon College team to let our players get accustomed to that level of play."
The SSAC coaches picked the Badgers to finish in seventh place this season and DeVries is comfortable with that prediction. "That's probably about right and about where we thought we'd be at this stage of the program's development," he says. "But we are definitely capable of finishing higher than that. Also, this year the conference has moved away from a divisional format, so that means one loss doesn't ruin your season and knock you out of playoff contention."
Overall, DeVries is happy with what he has seen from his young Badger team as the season approaches. "By the end of last season, the team finally started to understand where this program is going and how we need to get there. So far this year, they are making even more connections and they are very excited about starting the new year."
Spring Hill (0-1) will next host Texas College at 11 a.m. on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Library Field in the 1st annual "Classic on The Hill." The SHC men will follow at 1 p.m. with their season opener versus Texas College.