WALLA WALLA — It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that Amy Hasson has left some huge shoes to fill on the Whitman College women’s soccer team. Just take a look at last year’s stat sheet.
Hasson, who graduated last spring, led the Missionaries in practically every offensive category while earning first-team all-Northwest Conference honors for the second time in her four-year career at Whitman.
Hasson topped the Missionaries in total points (35), goals scored (15), shots (93) and shots on goal (44).
She also led her team with four game-winning goals and was second on the team in assists with five.
But when you listen to Heather Cato, who begins her third season as the Missionaries’ head coach, you get the feeling she’s just as concerned with rebuilding her team on the defensive end of the field as she is worried about where this year’s goals will come from.
“We lost seven seniors to graduation,” Cato said. “And we lost three of our four starting defenders — Libby Watkins, Kate Potter and Claire Westcott.
“Last year, we graduated just two seniors from my first team,” Cato added. “So losing seven strong seniors this year is a big hit. They were the unity of our team and it’s a huge core of players to try and replace.”
The other three seniors who are being missed this fall are Marisol Franzeca and Taylor Chock, a pair of mid-fielders, and Lauren Brougham, one of the Missionaries’ top two goaltenders during last year’s 8-10-2 campaign that also saw Whitman post a 6-8-2 mark in NWC play.
Cato’s first Whitman team finished 6-11-2 and 4-10-2. So it appears that the former University of Arkansas soccer star has the program headed in the right direction.
“The first year, it was just getting to know the players and their styles of play,” Cato recollected. “The second year was developing my coaching philosophy. This year we have had a year to figure it out, and I think we have made huge strides in our play.”
A lot of it has to do with simple physical fitness, an area that seemed to be lacking when Cato took over the program. “This year is the first year that I feel like we have come into camp fit and ready to play as opposed to half the team fit and worrying about trying to get everyone else fit to play,” the coach said.
It’s also important, she said, that for the first time in three years everyone appears to be headed in the same direction.
“We’re playing more as a unit now,” Cato said. “It’s 11 players, 23 actually, coming together rather than 11 individuals. Everyone is at least on the same chapter now and we are trying to put the pages together.
“We have 23 on our roster, and everyone — even the new players — is starting to understand what we’re trying to accomplish. And that comes from the mentality of our upperclassmen — our seniors and juniors.”
And it’s not as if the Missionaries are short on either experience or talent.
Seniors Erin Flannery (Corvallis, Ore.) and Jaclyn Rudd (Seattle Prep) were second-team all-NWC selections as juniors. And juniors Hallie Swan (Bainbridge Island, Wash.) and MacKenzie Hughes (Woodinville, Wash.) were honorable mention all-conference a year ago.
The other seniors on the roster are outside mid-fielder Julianne Masser (Boise, Idaho), center-fielders Marisa Poorboy (Coeur d’Alene High, Hayden, Idaho) and Misha Evertz (Highland Park High, St. Paul, Minn.), and goaltender Kelsey Houghton (Cleveland High, Portland).
Junior Emily Davis (Eagle River, Ark.) is in hot competition with Houghton for playing time in the net. Last year Davis split the goal keeping duties with Brougham and finished the season leading the team in saves with 51.
“It is one of the most competitive positions on the field, and Emily and Kelsey are pushing each other to be better,” Cato said.
Other juniors competing for playing time are Pam London (Shorewood High, Shoreline, Wash.), Kelsey Roehner (Sehome High, Bellingham, Wash.), Sara Sonnenblick (Chadwood School, Manhattan Beach, Calif.) and Taylor Thomas (Inglemoor High, Woodinville, Wash.).
Cato sees passion and competitiveness and improved knowledge as the strengths of this year’s team.
“We are all on the same page going in,” she said. “And as long as we continue to peak and not falter, we should do pretty well. Where I look for improvement is when we lose a game to be resilient and not allow ourselves to go into a losing streak.”
Winning a Northwest Conference championship is the team’s obvious No. 1 goal, Cato said. But above and beyond that, she wants her players and her team to compete regardless of the situation.
“If you have a bad first month and you play yourself out of it, you have to continue to compete and have pride in yourself and give everything you have and leave it all out on the field. If you do that, everything else will take care of itself.”