The Northeastern University women’s soccer team will kick off the 2015 season on Friday at No. 11 South Carolina. Here’s a preview of what you can expect from the two-time defending Colonial Athletic Association champion, with insight from head coach Tracey Leone and co-captain Mackenzie Dowd.
Last year’s team finished the season with a school-record 15 wins and reached the NCAA tournament for just the third time in program history. What are your expectations for this season?
Leone: “Our goal is to build on the success we had last year. We’ll do the best we can, try to work hard every day, and focus on getting better. We have a challenging out-of-conference schedule that should prepare us for conference play, beginning with South Carolina on Friday and Furman on Sunday. They’re two really great teams, and South Carolina will be a good measuring stick.”
Dowd: “Last season was our best in school history, and we’ll have to continue to build off that success if we want to establish ourselves as one of the country’s elite programs. Our preliminary goal is to win our conference championship. We learned last year that we can compete with any given team on any given day, and our first game against South Carolina will be a good test to see if we can compete with top-tier teams this year.”
One of the biggest strengths of last year’s squad was the defense and goalkeeping, which held opponents to just nine goals. What do you predict will be this team’s biggest strength?
Leone, who pointed to the intangibles: “Experience and drive. The returning players worked very hard this spring. Our team is so easy to coach, and we have a lot of talent in this group. They’re willing to learn and come out and compete every single day.”
Dowd: “I think we’re going to have a strong defense. Although we lost our starting goalkeeper and two center backs from last season, we have plenty of players capable of stepping into their roles. I also think our attack will be extremely strong—I have a feeling it’s going to be prolific.”
Last season’s top three scorers—Dowd, Hannah Lopiccolo, and Kayla Cappuzzo—will all return this season. What role do you think they will play in the success of the team’s offense, which was not heavily relied upon last season due to the squad’s stellar defensive play?
Leone: “They will play a big role. Dowd”—who was named the No. 70 player in the nation on the TopDrawerSoccer.com Preseason National Top 100 list—“is so dangerous on restarts and set pieces. Lopiccolo and Cappuzzo, for their parts, had a lot to do with many of the goals we scored last year and figure to play an integral role again this season. They’re all a year older with another year of experience under their belts, but that also means that our opponents will be more familiar with them. Other players will be well aware of their impact and their abilities, so their teammates will have to step up and chip in too.
Dowd: “Hannah and Kayla will play an integral role in our offense this year. Kayla is fast and is good at generating speed up the flank and getting shots on goal. Hannah is a playmaker, whether she’s shooting from long range or dribbling through people. Both will score a lot of goals for us this season.”
The team is welcoming eight new freshmen into the fold. Which of them do you think will make an immediate impact and why?
Both Leone and Dowd pointed to Nicole Gorman and Hannah Rosenblatt, two first-year forwards who shined in the preseason.
Leone: “Gorman is skillful, dynamic, and athletic. Rosenblatt offers up a lot of versatility.”
Dowd: “Gorman is very technical, physical, and super fast. She always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Rosenblatt is a gritty player and is good in the air. Both can make a big impact coming off the bench, especially as the season goes on and they get more comfortable with the speed of the collegiate game.”
Goalkeeper Paige Burnett, who completed her final year of collegiate athletic eligibility last season, had a historic 2014 campaign, racking up 16 shutouts en route to First-Team All-CAA honors. Which of the four goalkeepers on the 2015 roster do you expect to take over for Burnett, beginning with the regular season opener on Aug. 21?
Leone: “We have four talented goalkeepers who have been competing for playing time. We have to see how they develop and find out who has the confidence to take over that spot on a consistent basis. It will be interesting and exciting to see how it all unfolds. As of now, Jill Quinn, a redshirt sophomore, and Nathalie Nidetch, a freshman, are leading the way, but that could change. Our decision on who will be in goal on game day will depend on how each one performs and competes.”
Dowd, who praised Quinn’s preseason play: “We have confidence in her. She is excellent with her feet—her goal kicks get out to the half line or further—and she is a commanding, confident presence back there.”