The UNC Asheville women's soccer team had its first practice this morning as the Bulldogs prepare for the 2013 season. Below is a preview of the upcoming season.
The UNC Asheville women’s soccer team looks to take another step toward competing for a league championship in 2013.
Fourth-year coach Michelle Demko has steadily been rebuilding the Bulldog program. Asheville won just one match in her first year in 2010 but moved up to five wins in 2012. Demko’s club worked on attacking last year and finished second in the league with 38 goals in 19 games.
This season the Bulldogs hope to keep scoring but will look to improve defensively as Asheville allowed 62 goals a year ago.
“We’ve tried to build our program in stages, and last year we really focused on the attack stage,” stated Demko. “We accomplished a lot by scoring 38 goals and just being a lot more competitive in matches than we had been the previous two years.
“Now we want to focus on defense. That was where we put a lot of emphasis in the spring and where we’ll continue to work this fall,” added Demko. “When we get an early lead by scoring a goal, we need to make sure we’re mentally strong enough to preserve that lead.
“We want to learn to play 90 minutes of soccer,” Demko also said. “We can’t just play one good half; we need to put 90 minutes together.”
The Bulldogs return seven starters and 13 letter-winners from last year’s 5-14-0 squad. Asheville went 3-8-0 in league play and just missed getting into the Big South Championship.
While Demko is optimistic about the upcoming season, she knows that this Bulldog team will still be young.
“This year’s club will have 18 players who are either a freshman or a sophomore,” admitted Demko. “A lot of our sophomores got some great experience last year and will have a little more experience than other sophomores. We’re still a young team and there’ll be some growing pains.”
Junior Heather Muller has played every minute of every match for the past two seasons. She was second in the Big South and 10th nationally in saves with 125.
Muller will have some help this year as the Bulldogs have added two new goalkeepers to the program. They are sophomore transfer Suzie Zigante and freshman Bri Klein.
“I’m glad we have three goalkeepers and all three are great competitors with an outstanding work ethic,” declared Demko. “We just need one of them to step up and make it their job.”
Muller has improved each year, and that should continue in 2013.
“Heather has kept us in so many matches with her unbelievable saves,” commented Demko. “She’s a big piece of the puzzle for us this year to get more wins.”
Zigante joined the Asheville program in January after transferring from Grand Canyon. She has some international experience as she’s been the starting goalkeeper for Croatia’s Junior National Team the past few years.
“Suzie has a tremendous work ethic and wants to get better with every workout,” said Demko. “She joined us in January and participated in our spring season.”
Klein is a Richmond, Va., native who played high school at Godwin and club ball for the Richmond Strikers.
“Bri comes from a great club program in Richmond and knows the game,” declared Demko. “She communicates well with her backline and is very aggressive.”
The Bulldogs return some experience and depth in the back in 2013.
Sophomore Alex Stradford jumped into the lineup as a rookie and played well. She’ll be even better this season.
“Alex made tremendous strides from fall to spring,” stated Demko. “She has a good serve that gets the ball into the box and is a solid tackler as well.”
Asheville went through some injuries in the back last season. One of those was talented freshman Rachel Kish, who played in the first two games of the year before getting injured. She’ll play in 2013 as a red-shirt freshman.
“We’re glad to have Rachel healthy this year,” commented Demko. “I’m looking at her as an emerging leader. She has a real ability to solve problems as play develops. Rachel will be the glue that keeps us together in the back.”
Junior Megan Foster looks to overcome injuries that have slowed her during her career. The Florida product has been productive on the field when she has played.
“We expect Megan to take a leadership role this season,” said Demko. “She’s someone who knows how to play simple and is a good distributor of the ball.”
Sophomore Allie Jacobius only played in three games last year and earned one start before getting injured and missing the rest of the year.
“Allie really surprised last year as a freshman,” stated Demko. “She’s unselfish, reads the game well and is an excellent technical player.”
Sophomore Kelsey Palmer showed some real promise in 2012. Palmer had two assists on the season, and Demko likes her aggressiveness.
“We’re a more dangerous team when our defenders are going forward,” explained Demko. “Kelsey really started doing that last year and made us a better team. We’re excited about her progress and anxious to see her on the field this season.”
The Bulldogs have two freshmen who will compete for playing time in the back. They include Eve Kirkendall from Richfield, Ohio, and Abby Holt from Wake Forest, N.C.
“Eve is a freshman who could make an impact in her first year with us,” said Demko. “She understands what it takes to win. Eve comes from a good club program and possesses solid technical knowledge.
“We’re pleased to have Abby Holt in our program. She can play in the back or in midfield,” explained Demko. “We’re looking for her to make an immediate impact, as well. Abby is a player who can strike the ball very well and has good vision.”
Start with junior Amanda Dailor. She’s been a two-year starter for the Bulldogs in the middle ever since the California native came to Asheville. Last season, Dailor scored five goals and added two assists for 12 points.
“Amanda is the engine that keeps us going,” commented Demko. “She’s a great leader who always makes sure everyone is doing OK on and off the field. My expectations for Amanda this year are for her to be a little more selfish and score a few more goals this season. She’s a dynamic player.”
Local product Shenny Lenhart made an immediate impact with the Bulldogs as a freshman last season. She shook off an early-season injury to start and play in 18 matches. Lenhart scored four goals and had one assist in 2012, despite playing some games in the back.
“We had to play Shenny in the back some last year. She is very good at getting forward,” said Demko. “She’s tough in the air and does a great job helping set up goals. Shenny is very mobile, and we want to get her in more one-on-one situations this year.”
Senior Kristen Lawson returns for her final year. Lawson has played everywhere on the field during her Bulldogs career, including serving as a goalkeeper. She’s also a two-sport performer as she lettered on Asheville’s swim team last winter.
“Kristen is such a hard worker who is willing to play any position at any time if it helps our team. That’s pretty rare in college athletics,” explained Demko. “She’s strong and does a good job keeping the ball moving. Kristen will also be a leader for our team this year. She’s well-respected by her teammates and willing to take responsibility.”
Three freshmen will battle for playing time in 2013. The trio are Gabby Feinstein of Cary, Maddi Meglic of Taylors, S.C. and Emily Wheeler of Swannanoa.
"Gabby could see time at forward or in the midfield. She is equally comfortable and dangerous in both positions,” declared Demko. “She makes things happen on the field with regard to good one-on-one play or ball service. Gabby has a high work ethic that matches her technical and tactical understanding, which makes her a very good soccer player."
“Maddi is highly competitive and has a huge engine,” stated Demko. “She’s extremely talented and is a good student of the game.
“Emily is really strong, and we look to use her as a holding midfielder,” commented Demko. “She covers a lot of ground and knows how to play the game. Emily is a physical player who isn’t afraid of contact.”
Asheville could have one of the most explosive forward outfits in the Big South. The Bulldogs top three scorers last season were forwards and all are back in 2013.
Junior Kaitlyn Eckert was second in the Big South in scoring last season with 11 goals, nine assists and 31 points. She ended 2012 with a point in nine straight games, tying a school record. Her nine assists set a school record. Eckert earned second team All-Conference honors for her work.
“We have big expectations for Kaitlyn and believe she’ll be even more dangerous this year,” said Demko. “She is so dynamic when she has the ball. What Kaitlyn will have to adjust to this year is being a marked player. Every opponent we play is going to mark her closely. She’ll have defenders doing everything they can to disrupt her play.”
Senior Amanda Knapp was Asheville’s second-leading scorer in 2012 with six goals, two assists and 12 points. She’s been one of the Bulldogs’ top scorers her entire career.
“We’re looking for Amanda to have a big senior year,” stated Demko. “We want her to have more of a voice on this year’s club.”
Sophomore Paige Trent made an impact right away for Asheville as a freshman, scoring five goals and finishing with 13 points.
“Paige had a great freshman year and is going to even be better this season,” admitted Demko. “She can strike the ball with a lot of power and has dangerous speed. Paige is emerging as one of our go-to players. I believe she can be one of the best players in the Big South this season.”
Kennedy Garrett is another talented sophomore who showed she could play right away. Garrett gave the Bulldogs some instant energy off the bench and tallied three goals on the year with seven points.
“What’s great about Kennedy is she is one of our best competitors,” said Demko. “She is an excellent tactical player who is going to be even more dangerous this year with a year of experience under her belt.”
Freshman Katie Coffelt from Concord will work hard to get on the field as a rookie.
“I am excited to have Katie in our program,” stated Demko. “She comes from a highly competitive club so work ethic is never a question with her. Katie is very composed and comfortable with the ball at her feet. She never stops working for 90 minutes and does a good job putting herself in position to receive the ball.”
“We’re excited about the future of UNC Asheville soccer. Our team has really made a commitment to be better and set high standards for our program.
“We believe we’ll be better this year, but we have a non-conference schedule that will challenge us but prepare our club for the Big South Conference. The league is quite balanced and anybody can beat anybody on any given day.
“I like our team this year, but as I said earlier we’re very young. Most of our team is made up of freshmen and sophomores. We’re going to work hard to get better with each match and hopefully be playing our best soccer at the end of the season.”