The MSOE women's soccer team returns nine starters from the most successful season in school history, so it is not surprise that head coach Rolf Zersen and the rest of the coaches in the conference are optimistic for the Raiders' chances in 2016.
MSOE won a school-record 15 games last season, culminating in a thrilling NACC Tournament Championship and the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. On the strength of that, the league coaches picked the Red & White to finish second in the NACC preseason poll, with seven first-place votes.
Last season's success was a long-time coming for Zersen, who has helped to turn around the program. The Raiders posted their first winning season in 2007 and have since had nine-straight winning seasons and eight-straight campaigns with 10-or-more wins. Zersen's teams have gone 102-72-10 (.582) in that time, including 66-32-4 (.667) against NACC competition.
Heading the lengthy list of returning starters is senior Sara Travia, a three-time All-NACC First-Team selection. She got off to a slow start last season, but finished hot with 18 goals, eight assists and 44 points. Each of those figures led the team and was among the league's elite. Following the season, she was named to the all-region team for the second time.
In just three seasons, Travia's emerged as one of the most dangerous offensive players in school history. Her last goal was the 50th of her career and pushed her career point tally to 122, which is third in school history.
Travia was often paired with graduated senior Natalie Gayner last season, but Gayner and her seven goals and 21 points are gone. What is back is a midfield that actually returns more starters than there are positions.
In addition to senior attacking midfielder Aly Loepfe, wide players in senior Ally Brehm and junior Carley Mitus and junior defensive midfielder Missy Schultz, Zersen also returns fifth-year players Caitlin Liddiard and Anna O'Donnell. Each sat out last season with injuries after amassing lengthy resumes on the field for the Raiders.
Loepfe's quick pace and 6-foot-1 frame made her a dynamic option in the middle of the park. She ended up scoring eight goals and 19 points on the season, including three game-winners and a pair of penalty kicks in the league title match. Brehm mixed in some forward play, as well, and used her work rate to put pressure on opposing defenses to the tune of four goals and three assists. Mitus also struck for four scores and got on the scoresheet with a critical goal in the championship game.
Liddiard is among the program's best with 33 career goals and 81 points. She also has 57 games started under her belt and is looking to work her way back into the lineup. She's featured as both an attacking midfielder and a forward and is dangerous on the ball from open play and on set pieces. O'Donnell has a tremendous work rate and reads the game really well. She's started 53 games over three active seasons and her experience will be an asset as she could see some time in the attacking midfielder role.
Schultz has been the primary holding midfielder since she stepped on campus and figures to resume that position this season. The first line of the Red & White defense, she has been instrumental in limiting shots and getting the attack started from the back.
The back line is the only other area where Zersen lost a starter in graduated all-region center back Tori St. Martin. Fortunately, his remaining three starters are back after starting every game together last season. Seniors Becca Keller and Kait Riley are back in the outside positions and junior Kelsey Hailey is back after having started all but one match in her career at center back.
An in-house replacement is expected to step into St. Martin's role in sophomore Shelby Namen. As St. Martin was one of the first names on the team sheet each gameday, Namen called on her versatility to find time in the midfield as a rookie, but will find a home at her natural center back position this season.
Junior Mary McFee will benefit from the experience in front of her as she also returns as for her third season as the primary keeper. She made 17 starts last season and posted a .752 save percentage in just under 1,400 minutes with an 11-3 record and one shutout. She will be supported by senior Haley Anderson and a pair of freshman keepers. Anderson has played about 383 career minutes and saved 73.9 percent of shots faced over 10 games and one start.
In addition to returning starters, Zersen also returns ample options that played key reserve roles last season. Junior Melina Lynn is an attractive option alongside Travia with her burst of speed and pace on the ball. She notched three goals last season, including the game-winner in the season-opener.
Senior Rachael Griffin and junior Kassidy Girmscheid will be back in the midfield. Griffin has seen her minutes increase in support of the attack and she netted the most important goal in team history 37 seconds into overtime of the league title game. It was her third goal of the season. Girmscheid, meanwhile, has proven a versatile player for Zersen, demonstrating her ability in the midfield and along the defensive line. She could see early time in the midfield and provide cover at outside defense.
At defensive midfielder, senior Maria Schumacher returns to add depth to the position, but is comfortable with a more advanced role, as well. She does have 30 starts among 58 appearances in her career and finished with nine points last season on three goals and three assists. In the NCAA Tournament, she assisted on the first tourney goal in program history and then scored one of her own later on.
Defense is not without its depth, as senior Leah Ruplinger and juniors Sarah Kahl and Adriana Garsow are back and capable along the back line. Kahl and Garsow are primarily outside defenders, while Ruplinger has demonstrated the ability to play in a central defender role.