With back-to-back ECAC tournament bids under their belts, postseason soccer is no longer just a hope for the St. Johns womens soccer team, its an expectation. And with a strong group of returning players and a highly regarded recruiting class, the Red Storm are deeper then ever and are ready to make the next step up the playoff ladder.
I firmly believe that this year would be the year that we would make the Big East championships, said head coach Ian Stone, who is entering his eighth year at the helm. [Last year] we were as good as the majority of the teams in the Big East and we unfortunately lost a couple of games by the odd goal when I thought we were the better team.
The Red Storm are ranked fifth in the Big East conferences Northeast Division, picked behind nationally ranked Connecticut and Boston College, as well as Syracuse and Miami in the seven-team division. But Stone believes his teams depth is something that can push the Red Storm over the edge and into the Big East tournament.
Weve got 20 players who are pretty much on the same level. I dont think weve ever been able to say that before, said Stone, whose team finished 12-9 overall and 1-4 in the Big East last year. If we had a couple of injuries, as we had last year, then were a completely different team, whereas now weve got people to fill those holes.
With more technically sound players to work with, Stone said the teams strategy, as well as its formation on the field, will change as St. Johns will look to attack much more than in years past, which should take some of the pressure off the shoulders of Flushing native Marissa Stork, the Red Storms top returning scorer.
I think shes probably going to benefit from the fact that other people have stepped up the level of their games a bit offensively, which should take some of the goal scoring pressure off of her, Stone said of the former St. Francis Prep standout, who had seven goals and four assists last year. Her vision and creativity leads to a lot of chances for other people. We just havent always had people there who were able to finish those chances.
Also providing an offensive punch for the Red Storm are senior forward Lisa Kaczmarski, junior forward Erin Zambelli, senior midfielder Lisa Rinaldi, who Stone says has the best left foot in the Big East, senior midfielder Kristy Bergen, as well as freshman Dominica Reina, who scored two of the Red Storms four goals in an alumni game last week.
Weve got players coming from the back and we have so many numbers coming forward that it will be difficult to be able to cope wit us, Stone said.
Reina is among five newcomers, including freshman defender Pristina Alford, freshman midfielder Lauren McGrory, sophomore defender Claudia Rubino, a transfer from Mercer College in Georgia, and freshman defender Kari Schantz, who make up a recruiting class ranked seventh in the Northeast Region by Soccer Buzz magazine.
While he says its not the best recruiting class in his eight years, Stone does say the addition of a full-time assistant coach Wayne Fortino has made the difference in the recruiting wars and improving the teams outlook.
This is my fourth year and my first three years weve come [into the season] thinking about how much were going to lose to a Notre Dame, where this year its like were going to win, Stork said. I can see us going to the Big East without a problem. Last year we were very unlucky in a couple of games where we were the better team. This is the best team since Ive been here.
Joining Rinaldi and Bergen in the midfield will be returnees Diane Abeles, whose eight assists were primarily off of corner kicks and crosses, and Karyn Lundgren, a sort of unsung hero in the middle of the field.
She does some of the defensive covering in the midfield and controls the rhythm of the game, tidies things up, slows things down when we need it, Stone said.
There will be a bit of a change in the defense this year, as the team will play with four defenders instead of three, which had been the formation the last couple of years. The defense, led by sophomore Courtney Rett and junior Jen Taylor, will switch from a man-marking system to a zonal defense which Stone thinks will allow the defenders more of a chance to begin the Red Storms attack.
We always use to play to really stop the other team from creating and playing, Stone said. I think something that weve concentrated on over the last few years is to try to improve players and develop a style that, regardless of who were playing against, were going to try and go out and possess the ball against them.
Rounding out the team will be junior keeper Tina Fogg, who struggled a bit last year after a phenomenal freshman campaign, when she was named to the All-Northeast Rookie Team.
Shes looking real sharp, Stone said. I think shes matured a lot.
St. Johns opens the regular season Friday against West Virginia at DaSilva Memorial Field at 7:30 p.m. The Red Storm will continue its home stand Sunday when they host Long Island University at 2 p.m.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedgr@aol.com or call 229-0300.
©2001 Community News Group
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