WALLA WALLA — Speed and focus are the names of the game for the 2013 Whitman College women’s soccer team.
With seven starters returning, the Missionary lineup also possesses solid experience to go along with its swiftness.
“Overall, as a team, this is probably going to be one of the fastest we have had in the past,” said Whitman head coach Heather Cato, entering her fourth year leading the program. “The speed starts with the front line, but our entire back line is pretty quick, also.”
The Missionaries are coming off a 2012 campaign in which they finished seventh in the Northwest Conference at 4-9-3, and 5-12-3 overall.
To improve on that mark, Whitman needs to be more consistent and finish off games, Cato said.
“We have to play the full 90 minutes,” she said. “Last year we had times where we let down for 10 or 15 minutes and that was the difference in the game.”
Although the team lost second-team all-NWC midfielder Jaclyn Rudd (Whitman’s top goal scorer last year with five) and steady defender Erin Flannery to graduation, the Missionaries feature three all-NWC honorable mentions in their starting lineup: forward Clara Merlino, midfielder Hallie Swan and goalkeeper Emily Davis.
Whitman will take advantage of its speed at opportune times as it will look to continue its possession and ball-control style.
To achieve that goal, the Missionaries need to free up Merlino, the team’s top returning goal scorer who hit the back of the net four times last season — second best on the team — along with fellow speedsters Kelsey Roehner and newcomer Elyse Laurin. Jade Anderson is a competent goal scorer, also, when playing as a midfielder, but she could play a bigger role as a defender.
The major players on the backline this season are all returning starters: Nicolette Carnahan, Rachel Gano and Taylor Thomas.
Anderson, along with first-year Naomi Lee ,who is pushing for time, will fill the spot left by Flannery’s departure.
Davis will, again, protect the goal. Last year she allowed a stingy 1.2 goals per game.
Anchoring the middle of the field will be returning starters Mackenzie Hughes and Swan.
Swan, who was also conference honorable mention in 2011, started 16 games last season while Hughes started 10 and had minutes in all 20 games.
Justine Kovak, Pamela London and Kelsey Peck will also patrol the middle of the field.
The early season provides some stiff competition. The Missionaries face Redlands and La Verne next weekend, and Carroll University of Wisconsin (frequent winners of their conference and NCAA tournament qualifiers) on Sunday, all on the road at preseason classics.
“It will be a good test for us,” Cato said. “When we play against quality teams in the preseason, we have to compete at a high level against them. Because we have such a tough conference, playing well against high-quality teams really helps us in our preparation.”
Conference play commences for Whitman on Sept. 13, when the Missionaries host Whitworth at the Whitman Athletic Complex at 6:30 p.m.