When it comes to CAA women’s soccer, parity is the name of the game.
Over the past eight seasons, seven different schools have won the CAA tournament, and this season is shaping up to be par for the course.
“I think it’s going to be an interesting fall,” William & Mary head coach John Daly told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “VCU will be good again, James Madison, Old Dominion will improve on last year. I thought Drexel had made good improvement from previous years [along with] Hofstra and Northeastern.”
Of course, with so little between some of the top teams, spring preparations take on an even bigger weight. While the Tribe may be viewed as early favorites for the CAA again this fall, others like James Madison, Virginia Commonwealth, Hofstra and Delaware are angling to improve and aim for postseason honors next year.
VCU's Cristin Granados. Photo by VCU Atletics.
Like all programs, each school is in a different place. One program, JMU, took a trip to Costa Rica and played some local club sides before opening up the NCAA spring schedule last weekend with a 0-0 draw against the University of Richmond.
Injuries have hindered the Dukes’ immediate preparations, however.
“Our biggest issue right now is we have six players out for the spring for a variety of reasons related to injury,” JMU head coach David Lombardo told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “Kids coming off of surgeries, kids that have some lingering injuries from the fall that we’re just being very cautious with so that’s been part of what we’ve been working with.
“We are experimenting to say the least, but that’s what the spring is for. You already know who your core players are, you’re trying to find those kids who last fall didn’t get as much exposure, experience or playing time,” he said. “You’re hoping a number of those kids step up and out of the shadows and now you can look at them and say this is a kid who can help us out in the next fall.”
JMU returns almost all of its starters, including last year’s leading scorer Lauren Wilson, attacking midfielder Katie Menzie and goalkeeper Kate Courter, all who will figure prominently in the fall.
“On paper we don’t lose a lot – I think we have most of that covered from within and I think we’ve got some talented freshmen coming in that will push for playing time,” Lombardo said.
The team that will carry the target as defending champions on its back in the fall, William & Mary, sputtered in its first spring game, losing 5-0 against a very strong Penn State team.
While a significant loss, it gives the Tribe an idea of what needs to get done this spring.
“[We need to improve] the speed of play, speed of decision-making and just improvement in the execution as we just coughed the ball up too much, didn’t get tight on them when they had the ball and just conceded too many goals and too many chances,” Daly said.
Returning forward Mallory Schaffer is going to be a senior in the fall, and a lot of the attacking responsibility will fall on her shoulders.
Virginia Commonwealth, which lost in the CAA tournament final to William & Mary, peaked at the end of the season before falling short against the Tribe. Led by two Costa Rican youth internationals Cristin Granados and Karol Sanchez, the Rams finished second in the CAA regular season.
Three starters have since left, including two players in defense, giving VCU plenty to work on. That, and honing their attack are the two biggest tasks the Rams want to tackle in the spring.
“We weren’t the best offensive team in the CAA,” head coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “We were very good defensively but offensively we were not at the top of the list for the CAA so we’ve been focusing a lot on the final third and finishing our chances.”
Surveying the whole conference, there’s little reason to believe that the CAA won’t be just as wide open as it has been in recent times, with Delaware, George Mason, Hofstra and Northeastern among those ready to mix it up as well. What each team accomplishes this spring season could end up impacting how the fall plays out.
CAA Players to Watch
Mallory Schaffer, William & Mary: An outstanding 2011 for Schaffer saw her produce 17 goals and six assist, by far W&M’s leading goal scorer. She’ll need to be back at her best if the Tribe hopes to repeat this year.
Lauren Wilson, James Madison: It was an average season for the Dukes, who finished in the middle of the pack last year. Wilson, who will be a junior in the fall, is starting to embrace her need to be one of the go-to players this year and is almost certain to eclipse her 2011 total of eight goals.
Bex Kunz, Virginia Commonwealth: One ingredient lacking in VCU’s game last year was consistency in front of net. Kunz, who will be a junior in the fall, enjoyed a strong start to her collegiate career in 2010, although played sparingly a year ago. Currently off to a solid start in the spring, she could earn more minutes and help generate more offense.