When then junior women’s soccer forward Brooke Testa scored her sixth goal of the season to give The Rock a 1-0 advantage over East Stroudsburg University in the PSAC (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) tournament last season, the Green and White looked to be well on their way to advancing to the PSAC semi-finals for the second time in two years.
However, the Warriors would score late in the first half of play before icing the game late in the second to break the hearts of The Rock players and send the ladies home early. Returning last seasons’ team leaders, these women have not forgotten.
“I think they always have a little bit of a…I don’t want to say vendetta, but they have something against East Stroudsburg,” Head Coach Jessica Griggs said after a moment of consideration. “They rise to the occasion against East Stroudsburg. I think East Stroudsburg is the team they’re most gunning for.”
The Slippery Rock women’s soccer team returns to action this Thursday in a non-conference match-up with No. 22 West Virginia Wesleyan University. The home match is being played at Mihalik-Thompson stadium for the first time since a 2-1 defeat to West Chester University last season, but The Rock is confident of a fast start despite the tough match-up.
“We’ve had three games during pre-season and we did very well, and I think we sorted out some kinks and solidified a starting lineup. We have some great depth in the lineup right now,” Griggs said, “I think West Virginia Wesleyan is a very tough opponent but I think that we match up with them very well and it’s always been a close game, so we’re definitely prepared.”
The Rock’s top three scorers from last season return led by Testa who contributed 21 points from six goals and nine assists. Senior forward Skye Kramer and junior forward Kaitlyn Barackman also return after finding the back of the net five and four times, respectively. Each contributed three assists as well. Senior goalkeeper Kylie Downs returns following a stellar season with a 0.89 GAA, a 0.835 save percentage and 10 wins.
To complement The Rock’s veteran core, 12 recently arrived freshmen and six sophomores will look to contribute to the squad this season. “I think our young players are extremely talented and I think it’s just getting them to understand the expectations on the field and I think that so far they’ve been able to do so. Our sophomores have transitioned very well already,” Griggs said.
This season’s schedule features eight in-conference home games, seven in-conference away games and two non-conference games with one at home and one on the road. Senior night is home against Shippensburg University on Saturday, October 27th while the PSAC tournament begins Tuesday, October 30th against a team to be announced later.
Coming off three consecutive 10-win seasons, including a 13-win season three years ago, the pressure has intensified for the vaunted Rock seniors to make a deep run in the PSAC tournament and potentially the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) tournament.
“The PSAC is a hard conference to win, I mean there’s 17 teams. I think it’s an easier achievement to make it into the NCAA tournament,” Griggs said.
Making the NCAA tournament in any capacity proves to be a difficult challenge, but these ladies have set their goals higher than ever.
“The girls have created some of their own goals,” Griggs said. “We definitely have talked about how many goals we want to score, what we want our goals ‘for and against’ averages to be, and how many contributors we want to have.”
One of the greatest strengths of this team happens to be the distribution of the ball on breakouts which leads to players collecting assists on almost every goal – to go along with goals from 12 different Rock players last season.
“Last year we had 12 contributors which is pretty unbelievable because a lot of teams have one or two sole people to rely on, but I think we do a pretty good job spreading the ball around,” Griggs said. The high-powered attack from The Rock this season coupled by superb goalkeeping from Downs has the Green and White as one of the favorites to make a run through the highly-competitive PSAC this season.
While Griggs acknowledges that winning the PSAC this season will be difficult, she has the utmost faith in her team. “If you look at it from top to bottom, I think we are one of the teams in contention for the PSAC trophy.” A projected fifth place finish in the conference has this already motivated team that much hungrier to bring the PSAC trophy home to Slippery Rock this fall.
Oh, and that game against East Stroudsburg University is Saturday, September 29th at Mihalik-Thompson stadium. Don’t forget it, these women certainly aren’t going to.