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2009 Clemson Women’s Soccer Season Outlook

Aug. 26, 2009

The Clemson women’s soccer program has made great strides, and undergone significant changes, since January of 2008 when then-new head coach Hershey Strosberg arrived on campus. Strosberg expects those strides to translate to success on the field in his second year with the team during the 2009 season.

“Every year we work to get better,” said Strosberg. “We will be a more competitive group. We need to be mentally tougher. We are going to have to be those things in order to make the strides we want to as a group. I think we have the potential to do that this season.”

The primary reasons for Strosberg’s confidence heading into the season are: 1) an increased level of intrasquad competition, 2) proven success and competitiveness in the classroom 3) a newly completed coaching staff and 4) having a year and a half to work together as a team and integrate a new philosophy.

INTRASQUAD COMPETITION Strosberg is pleased with the level of competition among the players on the Tigers’ 2009 roster. With 17 of 20 letterwinners, including nine starters, returning from the 2008 squad, and 10 newcomers joining the team in the fall, the second-year head coach feels that the level of play will be greater at every position.

Goalkeepers Paula Pritzen returns for her junior campaign after having gained a considerable amount of experience over the past year and a half. Pritzen entered the 2008 season having played in just four collegiate games. Last year, the Houston, TX native started all 17 contests in goal for the Tigers and recorded 93 saves, a figure which puts her in a tie for third place in Clemson history for single season saves.

“Paula now has two springs and a full season under her belt,” Strosberg noted. “She has grown tremendously and has become a lot more confident and poised on the field. She can now consistently make the saves that are within her range, and is beginning to make several others that will be able to help our team swing momentum.”

Marci Elpers, a junior from Kingsport, TN, also returns for the Tigers at the goalkeeper position. Elpers was chosen by the coaching staff as the winner of the Coaches’ Award at the team’s annual postseason banquet and, although she has not seen a lot of time on the field, plays a very integral role on the team.

“Marci hasn’t had as much experience, but she is a big part of our team in terms of helping us raise the standards,” said Strosberg. “Marci challenges herself and her teammates on all the areas of fitness, competing and dedication to improving, and is helping set the benchmark significantly higher.”

Two newcomers will complete Clemson’s goalkeeping roster for 2009. Freshman Kris Gasparovic (Rochester, MI) and junior Sarah Delap (Greer, SC) will create stronger competition and a better sense of balance among the Tiger keepers.

Gasparovic played on two State Cup Champion club teams and was a member of the Michigan Olympic Development Program team that reached the ODP National Championship in 2007. Delap joins the Tigers for her junior year, after being a member of the Tiger rowing team in 2007-08. Delap was a three-time all-state honoree in soccer at Riverside High School and led her team to state titles in 2004 and 2006.

Defenders The Tigers lose defensive anchor Molly Johnson to graduation. Johnson started all 82 games of her four-year career on the Clemson back line and was also tied for third in scoring on the 2008 team. Several returning players have considerable experience on defense, and, combined with a few newcomers, will provide many options for the back line.

“Defense is an area where we have several good options, but we are not nearly as solidified,” noted Strosberg. “I would say the same thing for many of our field positions,” he added.

Sophomores K.K. Duffy and Ashlynne Bass bring a substantial amount of experience even after playing just one season on the Clemson back line. Duffy (Atlanta, GA) started all 17 games of the 2008 season on defense for the Tigers, while Bass (Loganville, GA) saw action in all 17 games, starting 12.

“K.K. had a lot of on-the-job training last season,” noted Strosberg. “She is naturally inclined to be a leader and to be vocal. She is working hard to solidify her place and understand her role at this level.”

“Ashlynne also had a significant role as a freshman. She continues to gain confidence and experience, which will be something that she will build further upon this fall,” said Strosberg.

An upperclassman that has shown great improvement is Stefanie Schroeder. The junior from Carrollton, TX, saw in increase in playing time from 2007 to 2008, when she saw action in seven and 12 games, respectively, and looks to improve that number again for the 2009 season.

“Stefanie has made great strides. In the past year and a half, she has gone from good teammate to good leader to good competitor,” Strosberg complimented. “She was one of our most consistent players during the spring season and I’m looking forward to seeing how she progresses over the summer and pushes the pace on the back line during the fall.”

Abby Lambert was sidelined by injuries for much of the 2008 season after starting all 21 games on defense for the Tigers as a freshman. Although she saw action in 13 games and tallied two assists last season, Strosberg hopes that the junior from Basking Ridge, NJ will make more of an impact on the 2009 squad.

Freshman Heather Marik (Naperville, IL) comes to Clemson with an impressive soccer résumé. Marik played for the U-15 U.S. National Team Nike Friendlies (CA) in 2006 and was invited to U-16 National Camp, although she did not attend due to an injury.

“Heather has played soccer at a very high level. She is a great ball-winner and an all-around solid, steady center back. We expect her to come in and compete right away this fall,” said Strosberg.

Katherine Carey, a freshman from Columbus, OH will also add depth on the Tiger back line. Her high school (Dublin Coffman) and club (Ohio Premier) teams saw much success at the state level.

Several players are in what Strosberg refers to as the “midfield-defender” range. Seniors Lindsey Jackson and Jennifer Ficklen and freshmen Meghan Duffy and Emily Tatum fall into this category.

Jackson has shown steady improvement throughout her Tiger career, despite some nagging injuries. As a freshman in 2006, she played in 22 games, starting three. In 2007, the Raleigh, NC native started 18 of Clemson’s 21 games and assisted on one goal. As a junior in 2008, Jackson started all 17 games, scoring two goals and tallying two assists.

“Lindsey is a warrior,” said Strosberg. “She has had to grow a tremendous amount more for the frustration of her injuries. She is a great role model and leader for our team and we all hope that she is healthy this fall so that she can have the senior year she deserves.”

Jennifer Ficklen returns for her senior year having seen increased playing time in the past two seasons. After red-shirting in 2006, Ficklen, from Rock Hill, SC, started three games and played in all 21 during the 2007 season. She started 12 of 17 games in 2008 and contributed one assist on the season.

K.K. Duffy. The younger Duffy’s Marist High School team won the Georgia State Championship in 2008. Emily Tatum (Richmond, VA) played for The Collegiate School, which won the Virginia High School State Championship in 2008.

Midfielders The midfield will be the area of greatest depth for the 2009 Tigers, with a significant amount of experience returning to the roster. In fact, all five members of the senior class, who were freshmen when the Tigers made their NCAA Elite Eight run in 2006, will or have played in the midfield.

Katie Vogel is a veteran of 59 games in a Clemson uniform, having started 37. She started all 24 games during her freshman season, recording three goals and three assists. The senior from Marietta, GA has continued to be a mainstay in the midfield, scoring a goal and three assists in 16 starts (in 20 games) in 2007 and tallying two goals and two assists and starting 16 of 16 games in 2008.

“Katie is a great ball-winner and competitor,” complimented Strosberg. “She has stepped up as a leader this year and we expect big things from her this fall.”

Frederick, MD native Molly Franklin is the leading scorer returning for the Tigers in 2009. Franklin led Clemson in scoring her freshman year with 16 points (six goals, four assists) and ranked second her sophomore and junior seasons with 14 and eight points, respectively. She has 18 assists heading into her senior year, which ranks her in a tie for ninth place in Clemson history for career assists. Franklin has started 56 of 62 games in three seasons, including 43 straight entering the 2009 season.

“Molly is working very hard this summer to come back and have the senior year we both know she is capable of having,” said Strosberg.

Senior Lily Boleyn (Ellicott City, MD) was plagued with injuries in 2008, yet still brings considerable experience to the Clemson roster. Having played in 53 collegiate games entering the season, Strosberg expects Boleyn to see more action on the field in 2009.

“Lily has had some unfortunate injuries,” noted Strosberg. “She did have a pretty good spring season and with her experience, I look for her to make an impact in the midfield.”

In addition to the seniors, three sophomores also return in the midfield for Clemson. Sarah Jacobs was a pleasant surprise in 2008, starting 15 of 17 games and finishing the season in a tie for third on the team in scoring. The Greer, SC native posted two goals and three assists for seven points as a freshman.

“Sarah was the biggest surprise of all of the freshmen last year, in terms of the role we expected her to have,” said Strosberg. “Her consistency and the simplicity of her game had a great impact on our team and I see that continuing into the 2009 season.”

Sophomores Sofia Blanco (Roswell, GA) will also add depth and experience in the Clemson midfield, having played in 16 and five games, respectively, last season.

Freshmen Callie Cavanaugh and Kate Biggerstaff may also see action at the midfield position. Cavanaugh played for Providence High School in Charlotte, NC and was a member of the ’90 Super Y National team in 2006 and 2007. Biggerstaff is from Granville, OH where she played varsity soccer and tennis at Granville High School and played for the Ohio Elite and Blast FC club teams.

With aforementioned seniors Jackson and Ficklen, and freshmen Duffy and Tatum likely to see action at the midfield-defender position, the Tigers have numerous options in the midfield. The preseason and early games of 2009 will be spent determining which combination of players produces the best results for the team.

Forwards The team loses a key offensive threat in Julie Bolt, who finished her four years at Clemson with 19 goals and 12 assists for 50 career points. Bolt scored nine goals in 2008, nearly one-third of the team’s offensive production for the season.

“Julie was a large part of our offense last year,” noted Strosberg. “At this point, we are curious to see where our goal production is going to come from this year. This will be a strength of ours if a few players step up.”

Tara Cort is one player who Strosberg hopes will help to fill the role vacated by Bolt. The sophomore from Wellesley, MA started all 17 games for Clemson in 2008 and finished the season with seven points (two goals and three assists) to tie for third on the team in scoring.

“Tara is someone who can have a profound impact. When she is playing on edge, she can be a very dangerous player,” Strosberg complimented. “She was unfortunate to have an injury that kept her out of the last part of spring practice, but I think that has motivated her in terms of her playing and training this summer and coming back strong for the fall.”

Juniors Judea Davis (Clemson, SC) and Samantha Fortier (Wilbraham, MA) also return at the forward position. Davis scored three goals, including two in one game versus UNC-Asheville, and played in all 17 of the team’s games in 2008. Fortier has five goals and six assists in two seasons in a Tiger uniform.

“Judea has gotten healthy and more fit. Now she is really working on becoming a better soccer player,” said Strosberg. “Sam’s ability to go one-on-one and her pace could make her dangerous,” he added. “Now she needs to work to learn how to use her strengths to have a greater impact on the game.”

Maddy Elder is a freshman who Strosberg sees mixing into the lineup right away in 2009. The native of Roanoke, VA was the leading goal scorer in girls’ soccer in Virginia’s High School Division AA in 2007 and 2008. She scored 128 goals and tallied 69 assists over her four-year career at Hidden Valley High School, where her team won the Virginia AA State Championship in 2006 and reached the state semifinals in 2007 and 2008.

Freshman Brittany Beaumont also has the potential to be an offensive threat. Beaumont played soccer and swam at Salem High School in Conyers, GA. She played for the ’92 GSA Phoenix Red club team, which won the Georgia State Cup championship in 2006 and 2007 and reached the Region III semifinals those two seasons.

Overall “With the experience and understanding of our returning players and the level of competition and athleticism the freshmen possess, we are going to have more options this year and create a greater level of competition, which is what every coach wants,” said Strosberg. “Having a little bit of depth is a great thing. Now, it is really a matter of finding a group of players that play well together.”

ACADEMIC SUCCESS Women’s soccer has historically been one of Clemson’s most successful teams academically. The 2008-09 year was no exception, with the team recording cumulative grade point averages of 3.30 and 3.47 in the fall 2008 and spring 2009 semesters, respectively. The 3.47 figure is the fifth-best cumulative team GPA for any Clemson sports program since statistics were first calculated in 1987.

The team has now had a cumulative GPA above 3.0 for 17 consecutive semesters and above 3.25 for the last 11 semesters. The fact that the players continue to encourage and challenge one another to succeed in the classroom is very important to Strosberg.

“Posting a cumulative team GPA of 3.47 is extremely impressive, especially given that the players carry a much stronger course load during the spring,” he noted. “That says a lot about the people we have in this program. Great people attract other great people. As long as we are bringing in the right people, not only are we going to continue to be competitive in the classroom, but we are going to be more competitive on the field as well.”

COACHING STAFF Strosberg added assistant coach Eric Golz to his staff during the summer of 2009. Golz has an extensive background in goalkeeping and Strosberg expects his influence to help produce further results.

“Completing our coaching staff and having someone that is going to develop our goalkeepers and defenders is going to allow us to really focus on what we need,” said Strosberg. “Now we will have the ability to take our three different lines and make them better groups overall.”

While Golz is in his first year at Clemson after spending three years at the University of Iowa, assistant coach Kristen Weiss is entering her second season with the Tiger program. Weiss came to Clemson from the University of Virginia, where she spent four seasons as a player, followed by one year as an administrative assistant for the Cavalier program.

“Kristen has remained a constant during the past year and a half of transition and has really helped to shape the vision of the program,” said Strosberg. “She has a wonderful ability to connect with the players and has been able to affect change and help us grow and develop in a number of areas. Those are just a few of the things that I appreciate about her.”

“The chemistry amongst our staff has grown a lot in a short period of time and I look forward to seeing where the program goes as that connection continues to build.”

TIME Another valuable asset to the program that will facilitate success on the field is time. In the year and a half since Strosberg took over at the helm of the program, he and his staff have been integrating a new philosophy and teaching the players a different style of play.

“Our program is looking to get stronger and we are trying to affect change,” said Strosberg. It doesn’t make it better or worse, it’s just different. We have a significant group of players who are now upperclassmen and understand how we want to do things. We are a much closer group with better cohesion.”

THE CHALLENGE FOR 2009 The four factors above are going to be put to the test right away in 2009, as the Tigers once again have a difficult schedule to contend with. Eleven of Clemson’s 19 opponents reached the NCAA Tournament in 2008, with seven of the 11 advancing to at least the second round. Four of the team’s first five games of the season, which includes 10 home games and nine away games overall, are on the road.

“Quality teams must play well at home as well as on the road,” said Strosberg. “That is why I think it’s important for us to test ourselves by spending a little more time on the road during the first part of our season. Traveling will also allow us to come together as a group and get to know one another a bit more, particularly with such a big incoming class.”

Following a pre-season scrimmage against Alabama in Atlanta, the season opener at home against Wofford on August 22 and the four road contests, the Tigers will play host to South Carolina and Furman in the Carolina’s Cup on September 11 and 13, respectively. Clemson will have two more home games, versus Georgia and Presbyterian, prior to beginning conference play.

“It will be good to have four tough games in a row before starting ACC play. Those games, against some of our biggest rivals in South Carolina, Georgia and Furman, will be a good barometer for us. We will be able to see where we are at and how we have grown in a year,” said Strosberg.

Of Clemson’s first five games in the Atlantic Coast Conference, four are on the road. The Tigers will travel to Virginia Tech, Virginia, N.C. State and Miami during the span of September 24 and October 9, with one home game against Wake Forest on October 4. Four consecutive home games, against Florida State, Duke, Maryland and Boston College, will follow from October 15-25. Clemson will close the regular season against defending national champion North Carolina in Chapel Hill on October 29. The 2009 ACC Championships will once again be held at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC on November 4-8.

“The strength of the ACC is both the greatest asset and the biggest challenge to our schedule,” noted Strosberg. “Last year, we showed that we were in a lot of games, but we also took ourselves out of a lot of games because of early mistakes, inexperience and a lack of inner toughness. The ability to change those things goes back to our goals of being a better team, of being more competitive and of being mentally tougher.”

With the top-notch quality student-athletes that the program consistently attracts and the dynamic coaching styles of Strosberg and his staff, with the passage of time, it seems certain that the program will achieve these goals, and many more.

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