Though the phrase “conference championship” has yet to be openly discussed by the Linfield women’s soccer program, it would be foolish not to assume that goal is on the minds of the Wildcats after coming up one win short of the program’s first Northwest Conference title a year ago.
“Being so close last year drives them to want what they almost had, what slipped through our fingers,” head coach Dominic Doty said of his players’ mindset heading into the 2012 season. “That’s a daily reminder for them to not settle.”
By returning the majority of last year’s squad and ushering in an immensely talented batch of recruits, Doty has put together a loaded and highly-skilled roster – perhaps the deepest in program history – primed for another quest to finally dethrone Puget Sound, winner of 10 straight league crowns.
This year’s team is fast, tactically sound, and, despite many of its impact roles being fulfilled by underclassmen, experienced.
“We had a lot of young girls get a lot of time last year; they had to grow up fast and mature on the soccer field,” Doty said. “Maybe we couldn’t see it at the time…but it has done wonders for us in the long run.”
Two of Linfield’s most dangerous scoring options are Emily Fellows and Julia Vaughan. Both suited up for just six games last season due to injury – though all-time scoring leader Fellows still managed to score seven times in that period – but return to the lineup healthy and hungry to contribute.
“To get those two back and feeling good is going to change our team quite a bit,” Doty said.
But Fellows and Vaughan have plenty of help. Emily Ing and Marie Johansen are more than capable of shouldering some of the scoring burden, along with newcomers Tegan Grunwald, Emma Vukic and Chrissy Walters.
The engine that drives Linfield’s potent offense is the midfield, the domain of 2011 NWC first-teamers Anna Sours and Christine Tamamoto and honorable mention selection Lindzee Baker. Sours and Tamamoto combined for eight goals last season, while Baker provides both size and control.
Fellow midfielders Jessie Hargett and Lauren Pyrch are both coming off injury-plagued rookie seasons and should also get the chance to regularly contribute this year.
Defensively is where things get interesting. Senior Emily Allison is the anchor for a young Wildcat backfield still shaping up. Stephanie Socotch and Madisen Stewart have made the transition from the midfield to the defense, but the rest of the lineup is relatively new and raw.
“We’re in the feeling out process of who’s going to be best there,” Doty said. “But we definitely have capable players.”
In addition to Allison, Socotch and Stewart, freshmen Regan Cox, Marisa Specht and Tara Ortega could see serious minutes.
For the second consecutive season, Linfield must replace its starting goalkeeper. Taylor Collinsworth, who saw action in six matches last season, and Amy Hammerquist, promoted from the junior varsity ranks, are battling one another for that responsibility.
Competition for playing time is a key theme for the 2012 version of Linfield women’s soccer. It is a quality that bodes well for focused practices and a collectively solid work ethic, but must be kept in check for the sake of team chemistry.
“Staying together as a team and making sure we understand the importance of why we’re all here and supporting each other” are keys to success, Doty said. That, and staying healthy.
Linfield gets tested early, opening the season against 16th-ranked Cal Lutheran and facing Puget Sound in just the third game on the conference calendar. The Wildcats must also play their final four games on the road, ending with the always-challenging eastern Washington swing.
With no margin for error and such a need to start and finish strong, every practice and opportunity to improve must be used to its full advantage.
“Daily commitment is going to be a huge thing for us. Making sure we show up every day and train hard and get better with improvement always in mind, and at no point settling for where we’re at,” Doty said. “If we do that, everything will take care of itself and we’ll find ourselves where we want to be.”