NEWS, NOTES &
The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
By Bethany Bradsher
ECU soccer reloads with new
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Last season the East Carolina soccer team did almost everything right, with
one misstep in the Conference USA tournament costing the program a
postseason bid that had seemed like a sure thing.
With just one game — a victory — under their belts, the 2009 Lady
Pirates are reloaded with a dozen newcomers who want nothing more
than to finish what the 2008 team started.
With just two seniors, the Lady Pirates will rely on some younger
talent to take them to their second consecutive conference title,
but before the C-USA slate commences they’ll face Wake Forest, N.C.
State and UNC-Wilmington. The two ACC opponents are road trips for
ECU, but when rival UNCW comes to Greenville on Sept. 20, the Lady
Pirates will look to uphold the reputation of having a daunting home
field with spirited fans.
“Definitely, our home opener is really a big one,” sophomore Jessica
Woodward said of last week’s Virginia Commonwealth game. “We tried
to spread the word for that one as much as possible. I think we keep
trying to spread the word more and more every year.”
Fan support is directly related to victories, and as the 14-4-4 team
was amassing wins last year the Pirate Nation took notice. During
the C-USA schedule, ECU won 12 consecutive games en route to the
conference tournament, where it finally lost to Memphis in the final
Citing insufficient strength of schedule, the NCAA decided not to
offer the Lady Pirates an at-large bid to the postseason tournament.
“Last year was amazing, to finally taste that and to be on top,”
said senior co-captain Jessica Swanson, who is leading the squad
with five game-deciding goals after shooting the game winner against
VCU. ”Of course you want to take it further. You want to take it to
the next level, and that’s my goal this year is to win the
conference tournament and make it to the NCAA tournament.”
After losing seven starters from that regular season championship
squad, ECU coach Rob Donnenwirth is relying on a youth movement that
includes 12 newcomers and eight sophomores. The freshman class
features players like forward Chrissy Gratz of Sunrise, FL, named
the 2008 Broward County Player of the Year, and four young women who
participated in the North Carolina Olympic Development Program.
Even with limited Division I experience, sophomores Woodward and
Rachel Fuller said that the younger players have already earned
their teammates’ confidence.
“I think they have a lot to add to the team,” Woodward said. “We’re
excited about that.”
“We’re deeper with them, too,” said Fuller. “Our bench is deeper.”
In the preseason, Coach Donnenwirth focused on creating the optimal
combinations of players, seeking to create chemistry at positions
where the team lost key players from last year.
“When you’re in the back and you lose four backs, it’s not easy to
piece together that group,” said Donnenwirth, who is poised to notch
his 100th win with the Pirates if the squad defeats Gardner-Webb on
Sunday. “It’s not about individual play, it’s about playing together
in the back. It’s more about them finding the right combinations.
That’s what we’ve been working on a lot.”
With their August 21 victory over VCU, the Lady Pirates brought the
overall program record to .500, at 131-131-30. By the end of the
season, they hope to make that mark as lopsided as possible with a
little help from their fans. They finally have a solid base of loyal
fans, but the players know that there is just one way to keep those
fans coming back.
“You get that publicity from winning, and that’s basically we have
to keep doing and keep people coming,” Swanson said.
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