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With veteran squad, women’s soccer aims high for the new season

Following a 2013 season that left much to be desired, the Binghamton women’s soccer team is ready to reboot its game this fall.

Franz Lino/Photo Editor Sophomore midfielder Katie O’Neill contributed two goals against Iona in BU’s 5-0 rout on Sunday.

In stark contrast to their finish, the Bearcats’ 2013 campaign began on a high note. Though projected to finish seventh in the America East, the Bearcats silenced their critics for a time, winning four of their first five non-conference contests. But Binghamton’s strong start proved to be only that. Its dominant record was whittled away as AE play commenced. BU finished with a meager 3-4-1 conference record, landing the team in sixth place.

In the AE’s latest preseason coaches’ poll, Binghamton was again projected to finish seventh. While head coach Sarah McClellan found the prediction a “fair pick” based on last year’s disappointing performance, she hopes her team will surpass that ranking when it comes time to play.

“You have to earn your respect,” McClellan said. “We have got to play and focus on what we can control. The polls don’t really mean anything in terms of the results of the game. I think our girls are very mature and it really hasn’t fazed us whatsoever.”

Last season, UMBC proved just how insignificant the polls can be. Projected to finish ninth, the Retrievers blazed through their conference schedule and secured the AE championship, a reminder to BU that expectations have no bearing over results.

To Binghamton’s advantage, the team will field a largely veteran squad, with 19 members of last year’s roster returning. Among these are junior forward Stephani Church, who led the Bearcats’ offense with five goals in 2013, and senior keeper Gaby Gold, who allowed an average of one goal per game last fall. Also returning is junior midfielder and co-captain Rebecca Raber, who earned first-team all-conference honors last season after tallying three goals and three assists. Along with eight new faces, this BU team has the balance and motivation to make large strides in the AE this season.

“We have a lot of depth coming in at all positions, as defenders, as midfielders, as forwards,” senior back and co-captain Connie Gormley said. “We can do a lot of swapping in and out and getting new players on the field to switch it up on the attack.”

Thanks to the team’s experience, the Bearcats are also able to change their approach: McClellan and the coaching staff plan to give the players more room to make decisions on the field.

“We are giving [the players] a little bit more ownership of making choices out there based on systems of play,” McClellan said. “This is just a very high soccer-IQ group, so they are able to make adjustments; it is something we want them to take over on the field. At the end of the day we just have to get the job done, and however we have to do it is how we are going to do it.”

The Bearcats have started their season largely at home, with four of their first five games scheduled for the Bearcats Sports Complex.

Facing non-conference opponents in mainly rematches from 2013, Binghamton has already endured highs and lows this season. Losing their first three games by a combined score of 1-6 – including a pair of shutouts courtesy of Temple and Lehigh – the Bearcats rallied in their most recent matchup, played against Iona. Facing the Gaels (1-2) on Sunday, BU’s offense turned a corner, netting five goals as its defense held Iona scoreless throughout the match. Sophomore midfielder Katie O’Neill led the attack, finding the back of the net twice and recording her first collegiate goal through the process. Freshmen forwards Jocelyn Acor and Jacque Rice also netted their first goals in the green and white.

While the victory may be sweet, BU still turned out a disappointing 1-3 start. If the team plans to move forward in conference play this season, consistency is a must.

“[Sunday’s victory was] a baby step,” McClellan said. “We need to have a lot more steps before we can say we’re heading in the right direction.”

Binghamton will face six more non-conference opponents before AE play begins in late September. If the Bearcats aim to turn a new leaf and make an impact in the conference, they will have to make all the necessary adjustments before then.

“We have set very high marks for our goals and our standards,” McClellan said. “This team is capable of making some big splashes in the conference play, and I think we could have a very long season this year.”