The Slippery Rock University women’s soccer team is hoping to carry the success of their 2016 season into 2017 as the start of the season is right around the corner.
The Rock, coming off their 21st consecutive winning season, boasted a 10-8-1 overall record (.533) and a 10-5-1 (.656) record in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) last season. The women are currently ranked eighth in the PSAC at the start of the season. Slippery Rock head coach Jessica Griggs said that she believes that the PSAC is unaware of the talent and skill her team possesses this year.
“I do not think the PSAC really knows our team, especially because we graduated a lot of people last year,” Griggs explained. “We have a whole new look out there this year. Because we are young, especially in terms of freshmen, it will take our team some extra time to put themselves together out there.”
Coach Griggs is entering her third season leading the Green and White. Since joining The Rock as head coach prior to the 2015 season, she has a record of 23-14-2 (.603) and has led her team to the PSAC playoffs in all three of those years.
With the transfer of goalie Charlotte Elrod, junior Kylie Downs is expected to be the starting goalie for The Rock this year, with freshman Kara Seebacher expected to get some nonconference starts in goal, Griggs said. Downs, who started in 16 of the 17 games she played in a season ago, allowed, on average, 1.306 goals per game last year, which was good for 10th in the PSAC among all goalies. Downs also recorded five shutouts in 17 games played (.294), which was good for seventh in the PSAC.
The Rock is returning four seniors to the field this year—Tess Keeley, Maddy Tletski, Maddy Smith, and Haley Burkholder. Burkholder, who will serve as the team
captain for the 2017 season, is the only veteran defender on what is a “very youthful” defense, Griggs said. Sophomore Madison Johnson and freshmen Elise Forry and Sofia Harrison will help defend the backline for The Rock, Griggs said.
The starting midfield for this season will consist of Keeley, Tletski, and Smith, Griggs explained. Griggs mentioned how she expects a great season coming from both Keeley and Tletski, who combined for seven goals last season.
The Rock will have to play without Dara Demich this season, who graduated last year. Griggs said that although not being able to have Demich out there playing for The Rock this year is tough, it is not the end of the world.
“I think that what we have is fresh, new energy,” Griggs said. “We have a lot of new looks up front, but we also have a lot of returning talent in our juniors, Brooke (Testa), Skye (Kramer), and Julie (Esposito). In terms of when other teams do scouting reports, yes they will see we lost Dara but what we really have this year is very refreshing.”
Griggs praised the efforts put forth this pre-season by sophomore Tyler Spence. Spence, who recorded two goals and two assists in her rookie season, has become an “absolute leader” on the team this year, Griggs said. The Rock has lost sophomore Miranda Gallucci for the entirety of the 2017 season, as a result of an injury she sustained during the middle of last season.
“Miranda, I will confidently say, was our most impactful player last season,” Griggs said. “It actually is a pretty big loss for us this year, but she is rehabbing and working very hard to get back.”
Griggs acknowledged the fact that because her team is very young and because she only has 19 healthy players to work with at the start of the season, that there will be some definite hurdles her team will have to overcome this year to compete.
“We are kind of new and that will take us some time to really sort out who we are on the field during games,” Griggs said. “Once that happens, however, we are going to ‘roll’ very quickly.”
Griggs believes that her team’s biggest strength is the dynamic that her team has created off the field.
“[The women] are so close and they have really created an environment where they are not afraid to make mistakes,” Griggs said.
The Rock will begin their regular season schedule on Thursday when they travel to Edinboro University to take on the Fighting Scots at 6 p.m. in their first conference matchup of the year. The matchup between Slippery Rock and Edinboro is one where the two teams playing each other are evenly matched to start the season, Griggs said.
“The game could go either way,” Griggs said. “It is really exciting. I do not what will happen but it will be a very competitive matchup.”
After Thursday evening’s matchup, the Green and White will travel to West Virginia Wesleyan to take on the Bobcats in a non-conference matchup on Saturday afternoon before coming home to host school rival Indiana (Pa.) on Wednesday in the Rock’s home opener. The match is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium in Slippery Rock.