Healthy Women's Soccer Squad Looks To Return To National Prominence 8/15/02

Beginning play in 1985, the Vanderbilt is the oldest women’s soccer program in the Southeastern Conference. However, the 2002 season can be looked upon as a new beginning. This season could mark the rebirth of one of the conference’s most storied programs. Second year coach Ronnie Coveleskie Hill combines 16 returning lettermen, including nine starters, with 11 newcomers to assemble one of the most talented Commodore teams in years. While at home they christen their new 2,400 seat stadium, the Commodores have their sights set on a trip they haven’t been on for three long years - the NCAA Tournament.

“There is no doubt that we were all very disapointed with last year,” comments Hill. “We went through a difficult transitional season. This spring was a turning point for our team. We found an amazing energy level in both our training sessions and games. Our goal is to compete in the SEC and earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. If we remain focused, fight hard, and come together as a team, good things will happen for us.”

Anchoring the 2002 team will be the Commodores’ strength on the defensive end of the field. In goal, the team may have the most talented corps of keepers ever on a single Vanderbilt team. Juniors Lauren Whitt and Stacee Sproul return after sharing time in net last year. Both have already made their mark on the Commodore record book since their arrival in Nashville. They are joined by Esther Thompson, who transfers to Vanderbilt this year after two standout seasons at Texas A&M. All three have the ability to make key saves for the Commodores to win games.

“We are extremely lucky to have three top level goalkeepers this fall,” states Hill, a former goalkeeper herself. “Each one brings a different aspect to our team. Stacee is very athletic and a great shot stopper. Lauren is very tactical and has an amazing ability to read the game. And our latest edition, Esther, brings a wealth of experience in big game situations. It will be a battle.”

However, the amount of shots the Vanderbilt keepers will see this season could be small because the strength of the Commodore defensive unit. Senior Kelly Kulsrud and sophomore Jessica Fear return after a 2001 season in which they didn’t just play every game for the Commodores, but every minute of every game. Kulsrud has established herself as one of the top defenders in the conference and will move from the right side to the center back position this year. Fear is expected to once again anchor the left side of the Vanderbilt back. Sophomore Allison Weed moves into the defense this season after her freshman year where she played forward for the Commodores. Two freshmen will also be part of the Commodore defense. Colorado natives and club teammates Kari Boersma and Kim Perkins both have the skill and athletic ability to make an immediate impact this season for the Commodores’ defense.

“Kelly Kulsrud will lead our defense in the center of the back,” states Hill. “She is one of the best defenders I have ever seen. She will be a major factor for us this season. I expect Jessica Fear to light up the left side of the field with her attacking mentality. Allison Weed has transitioned from an attacker to a tenacious defender. The addition of Kim Perkins and Kari Boersma will provide us with great speed and hard-nosed defenders.”

In the midfield, the Commodores have one of their strongest groups of players. Leading that midfield are a pair of returning All-SEC players in senior Katharine Carroll and junior Jennifer Lewis. Carroll comes off a 2001 season when she tied for the team lead in goals and points, while leading the squad in shots. A strong player who anchors the center midfield, Carroll can help the Commodores win games with her play on both the offensive and defensive ends of the field. Lewis missed the start of the 2001 season due to injury but returned strong by having two goals and three assists upon her return to the center midfield. Another midfield player looking to rebound after a injury-plagued 2001 season is Michelle Bruntlett. An offensive weapon in the midfield, Bruntlett scored six goals as a freshman during the 2000 season. A return to that form this year would be a tremendous boost to the Commodore attack. On the outside of the midfield are two players who were staples of the Commodore lineup last year. Junior Emily Wilpers provided strong offensive and defensive play while starting every game at the right midfield while sophomore Molly Wilson led the team in assists her freshman season from her left midfield spot. Senior Marissa O’Leary returns to the midfield after moving from defender to a defensive midfield postion last year. She is joined by sophomore Kendra Sasa who is back after missing the entire 2001 season due to injury.

The veterans in the midfield will be challenged for playing time this season by a talented freshman class of seven midfielders who have all had bright high school and club careers. Nicki Applefield, Ashley Duffy, Meghan Habig, Caitlin Harris, and Lauren Mitchell all earned All-State honors last season in high school. Michelle Fullard, who has experience playing for the Australian youth national team, and Sara Ramza also are talented players that make the Commodore freshmen midfielders an extraordinary group. All of them have the ability to make an impact for the Commodores this year.

“We have tremendous depth in the midfield,” comments Hill. “The addition of Jen Lewis and Michelle Bruntlett after playing with injuries last year solidifies a very solid midfield. Kat Carroll’s ability to win balls in the air is fantastic. Molly Wilson and Emily Wilpers have given us reliable and explosive play on the flanks. The addition of a healthy Kendra Sasa will provide a battle in the center of the midfield.”

Coming off a season in which the Commodores scored 24 goals in 17 contests, the play of the forwards will be vital to Vanderbilt’s success this year. Leading that attack are two players looking to put behind last year’s injuries and return to top form. Junior Jen Talavera, Vanderbilt’s active career leader in goals, is looking to rebound after playing just three games last year before an knee injury sidelined her for the remainder of the season. She has rehabilitated well after the injury and returned to the field for the spring season. Junior Laura Hershenow is also looking to rebound after an injury plagued 2001 season. After leading the Commodores in scoring as a freshman in 2000, she played through a lingering ankle injury last year and her scoring totals suffered because of it. If both players return to their top form this year, the Commodore offense could be explosive. Those two players are joined in the attack by two other verterans. Senior Lizzy Johnson moved to forward last season from defense and played admirably in her move to the attack, scoring in her first three starts as a forward. Junior Erin Higgins was a force off the bench in the attack a season ago, as she contributed a career-high three goals. Freshman Kelci Hegg will also look to make a contribution to the Vanderbilt attack this year. A proven scorer at the high school and club level, she will be another threat up front for Vanderbilt.

“I am pleased with our group of forwards this year,” comments Hill. “Jen Talavera is returning stronger and more fit since her surgery last fall. Laura Hershenow had a fantastic spring and is fully recovered from her injury in the fall. Lizzy Johnson has an amazing ability to strike a ball and is a great target player. Erin Higgins’ speed takes us to a new attacking level. The addition of Kelci Hegg will provide us with a hard working and exciting attacking player.”

The 2002 edition of the Commodore women’s soccer team will be one of the deepest and most talented squads in recent years. Fans can expect to see a high level of play and some very entertaining soccer.

“Our style of play will be possession oriented with a very explosive attacking zest,” states Hill. “We will defend with 11 players behind the ball as well as attack with all players involved. We will step on the field with confidence and play hard exciting soccer every day.”

Hill’s squad will use that style to go up against a challenging schedule against some of the top teams in the nation. Eight of the 17 teams on this year’s schedule played in the NCAA Tournament a year ago. The Commodores will host 2001 SEC Champion and Women’s College Cup participant Florida, and Conference USA power Marquette while visiting traditional powers Texas and SMU out of conference and Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia in the SEC. Vanderbilt will also play Southern California at the Wake Forest Tournament.

“I am very excited to see how our team reacts to our challenging 2002 schedule," says Hill. "After the character-building 2001 season we experienced, I am anxious to see our team's results against some of the nation's top teams. This schedule will provide a good measuring stick for the future of our program."

On that schedule, eight of the games will be played at home in the new Vanderbilt Soccer/Lacrosse Stadium which opens this fall. The facility will hold 2,400 fans and include a press box, concessions areas and restrooms. The team will play on the new Tiftsport grass field which makes it one of the finest playing surfaces in the nation.



Vanderbilt Athletic Department
2601 Jess Neely Drive
Nashville, TN 37212
615-322-GOLD (4653)