Aug. 5, 2003
NORSE AIM FOR GLVC, NCAA TITLES
Talented NKU seeks sixth straight GLVC crown
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. - This is the type of rebuilding year that a coach would like to suffer through more often.
How about spending more than two months being ranked No. 1 nationally in the NCAA Division II poll? Does an unbeaten regular season sound OK? What about a final record of 20-1-2?
Thats what Northern Kentucky University womens soccer head coach Bob Sheehan had to endure last season, when his Norse were in the rebuilding mode. NKU entered 2002 without all-time leading scorer Betsy Moore, two-time All-American Tricia Ruark and four other starters from a team that had made three straight trips to the NCAA Division II Final Four.
The graduation losses did not halt the winning, though. NKU rolled to its fifth consecutive Great Lakes Valley Conference championship and advanced to the NCAA Division II Tournament for the fourth straight year. The Norse, who posted a 16-0-2 regular-season record, eventually dropped a 1-0 decision to the University of Nebraska at Omaha in the national quarterfinals and finished 20-1-2.
Not bad for a rebuilding year.
Last season was interesting in many ways, Sheehan said. It demonstrated that we have progressed from being a solid team into a solid program. After suffering huge graduation losses from the previous year, we were still able to put a competitive team on the field last fall.
Sheehan, who owns a 108-22-7 record at NKU, returns seven starters from a team that was ranked No. 1 nationally in the NCAA Division II poll for most of the 2002 season. NKU must replace its top three scorers from last year, but the Norse return four standout performers from a stingy defensive unit that posted 13 shutouts last year.
Our defenders have always played at a high level, but they were much more noticeable last season because our goal production was almost half of what it was from the previous year, Sheehan said, noting his team scored 118 goals in 2001 but managed just 60 goals last season.
Our defenders had to keep us in many games last year until we could find a way to score, he added.
Senior defender Becky Schnieders earned All-GLVC and All-Region honors last season and returns to the NKU backfield. The Norse also feature junior sweeper Robyn Withers, who was named first team All-GLVC in 2002.
Schnieders and Withers are graduates of Seton High School in Cincinnati, and both figure to challenge for All-America honors this season.
Becky is an outstanding man-to-man marker in the backfield, and Robyn is an exceptional sweeper, Sheehan said. The defense is our strength, and both of them are keys to our success.
Senior goalie Megan Zalla, who earned second team All-GLVC honors last year with a 0.49 goals against average, also returns to the lineup. Sophomore Sam Westerling will compete with Zalla at goalie.
Sophomores Ashley McGuffey and Katie Hanck should be factors in the Norse backfield, and the versatile Hanck could also play in the midfield. NKU must replace stopper Hope Bushelman, who was named GLVC Player of the Year in 2002.
Sheehan said that Hillsdale (Mich.) College transfer Emi Himeshima will provide a strong tackling presence as a defender. Freshman Lindsey Thieken is a tenacious defender and could challenge for playing time in 2003.
Senior forwards Aisling Callaghan (seven goals, six assists) and Kendra Zinser (four goals, eight assists) will provide experience and scoring punch. Sheehan also said he expects returning letterwinners Michelle Kelly, Carey Hebbeler, Laurel Chalk, Bobbi Meister and Amy Martini to play key roles in 2003.
Sheehan said that sophomore forward Jamie Reynolds, a transfer from Bellarmine University, is an exceptional finisher and will contribute. Freshman Samantha Riley is a speedy forward who could be a key this season.
Four other freshmen - Amy Law, Shirley Ernst, Krista Rogers and Katie Kugele - will also challenge for playing time.
We have a very young team this year, and 13 of our 21 players are freshmen or sophomores, Sheehan said. Our youth, coupled with an extremely ambitious schedule, will make this season extremely challenging.
NKU will meet defending NCAA Division II national champion Christian Brothers (Tenn.) University on Sept. 5 at Memphis, Tenn. A year ago, the Norse knocked off top-ranked Christian Brothers, 1-0, and jumped to No. 1 in the national rankings.
NKU will open GLVC play on Sept. 21 against the University of Indianapolis. The Norse have not lost to a GLVC opponent since Oct. 9, 1999, when Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville posted a 3-1 win over NKU.
Since that loss to SIUE in 1999, NKU has gone 40-0-4 against GLVC opponents.