The 2012 Spring Hill College women's soccer team is a young squad with 11 freshmen, nine sophomores and only three juniors. "That's the biggest thing about this year," says head coach Christian DeVries. "You can't hide that we are still a very young team and this season will revolve around how we react to that factor. We may take some lumps early in the season as our players take time to learn the college game, learn how to play with each other and learn a new style of play. The way our schedule is designed, however, if we come together and learn the early lessons we'll be ready to face the challenge of playing in the SSAC [Southern States Athletic Conference]."
Despite its youth, the Badgers will feature good overall team speed especially on the offensive side of the field. "This year we will have much more speed and we admittedly have sacrificed some of the ball-control ability that we have had in the past," says DeVries. "But that style of plays works well in the SSAC."
The forwards for the 2012 edition of SHC soccer are two dynamic freshmen with speed who complement each other's styles. "Amanda Allen from New Orleans, La, has a good pace and goes to the goal," DeVries says. "She is dangerous in open space and will stretch the defenses of most teams." Her counterpart Courtney Harlan from McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in Mobile is a transfer from LSU who has impressed DeVries. "Courtney quietly does everything right," he says. "She is a calm decision maker and has tremendous vision. She sees the options and has the ability to use both feet. I think the local community will enjoy seeing her play in her hometown."
On the outside midfield, the Badgers will showcase as much experience as they can with such a young team in the two sophomores of Emily Thorpe of Shawnee Mission, Kan., and Lindsay Aleman of Covington, La. "Emily is a physical player who can cross the ball," says DeVries. "Lindsay is now a two-year player under my system and that's her biggest asset. She understands what we're looking for on the field and knows her own strengths."
The central midfield will be highlighted by sophomore Erin Claxton of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, who DeVries describes as an attacking player with speed. "She knows how to feed the ball. This year our fans will see just how well she sees the field and makes decisions," he says. Joining Claxton will be freshman Aedan Stranahan of Eureka, Calif., who has the important ability to switch the point of attack at a moment's notice. "Aedan is a dangerous player," says DeVries. "She also can score from 30 yards out if our opponents aren't careful."
The defensive side of the field will be an experiment for the first half of the season as junior Molly Cowley of Jefferson City, Mo., is forced to sit out the opening games with an injury. Until she can return the midfield will see a lineup of sophomore Tatiana Gonzalez of Ocean Springs, Miss., at center back and sophomore Haley Funderburg of Pell City, Ala., at the outside right position. "Funderburg also has dangerous speed," says DeVries. "She can really set up a game and be a difference maker." The rest of the defense consists of two freshmen looking to make an immediate impact as Kaitlyn Blaise of Lynn Haven, Fla., and Hannah Michael from New Orleans will look to earn starting roles.
Sophomore Megan Fox of Niceville, Fla., and freshman Kari Vitucci of Cedarburg, Wis., will each see important playing time at either outside midfield or on defense. DeVries says both players are dynamic and capable of fitting into whichever role he needs them to play whenever he needs them.
DeVries has a tough decision when it comes to choosing his goalkeeper. Sophomore Abby Massengale of New Orleans and freshman Maggie Dalessio have been battling each other for the starting role throughout the early practices and DeVries says that both will see playing time in goal. "Our new goalkeeper coach Kevin DeLange has been working with both of them on a daily basis and we feel comfortable with either of them as the starter," he says. "With DeLange's tutelage we now look for our keeper to be not just a shot stopper but a true 11th player on the field who can spot opportunities and start attacks."
The Badger bench is also a real strength in 2012. "Our reserves are hungry," says DeVries." "They've been pushing our starters and making everybody better. This is as much depth we've had in my three years at Spring Hill." Sophomores in Nina Tejera of Ft. Myers, Fla., and Erin Brennan of St. Louis, Mo., return to the midfield along with Theresa Carr of St. Louis, on defense. Freshmen Jaimie Breitweiser of Daphne, Ala., and Lauren Gonzalez of Meraux, La., on defense, Sidi Genus of Great Bay, Jamaica, at forward and Emma Tacon of Houston, Texas, in the defensive midfield each bring enthusiasm and a hard-driving spirit to the Badgers.
"We have a lot of exciting components on this year's team," says DeVries. "Youth can be a curse, but it can also be a blessing. Younger players bounce back quicker and we'll need that this season with a balanced schedule. We need to define who we are early on in non-conference play to get ready for a tough conference run, but I'm excited to hit the field and show off what we have."
The Badgers open the 2012 season at home on Sunday, August 19, at 1 p.m. on Library Field versus NCAA Division 1 opponent Nicholls State University.