By Devon Jeffreys
PHOTO CAPTION: Jessica Potter is one of nine soccer players who graduated, leaving the Lady Saints with holes to fill.
A loss in last year’s regional final saw the end of the college careers of some stellar seniors on the Flagler women’s soccer team. This year the team, much like the college in moving to the NCAA, will begin anew.
When the Lady Saints take the field this season coming off what may be the best season in the history of Flagler women’s soccer, they will have a different look — a consequence of losing nine seniors. However, the team continues to have high expectations and is looking to build off the momentum last year created, not let it slip away with the graduation of those seniors.
“We lost some good players,” coach Teddy Meyer said. “We lost some girls that, when they graduated, were totally different from these girls because of their four years. If I could see the girls that graduated last year four years ago, they’d be very similar to these girls.”
The team enters the 2006 season with just one senior, midfielder Elizabeth Poore. Poore has played for the Lady Saints for the last three years and, along with junior Jessica Echterling, captains the team.
“Both of them were leaders last year,” Meyer said. “They weren’t seniors eligibility wise, but they almost were last year. Being the two elder girls on the team they’ve added a tremendous amount. They are captains in a true sense. They look after the team and we talk about things, how things are going,” he added. “They keep a good pulse on the team and how girls are doing. Their leadership skills are unbelievable.”
Eight other players join Echterling and Poore as returnees to the team, however, there are new players — 10 freshmen and a junior transfer — than there are returning ones. But Meyer said he didn’t go out looking for players to replace the ones he lost in particular.
“I didn’t especially look for certain players, we had some girls that I knew could step up and fill those shoes,” he said. “I just got other players that could build around us and that I could implement in certain places and that I knew could start straight away and also could give us minutes off the bench right away.”
Poore and Echterling began working with the newer players as soon as they arrived at Flagler and Meyer believes the chemistry the team has already established will play a big role this season.
“We got a very good freshman class in,” Poore said. “Coach did a great job recruiting and a lot of them are really stepping up to the plate.” Both Poore and Echterling know that it will be difficult to replace the players the team lost, but they have confidence in the current group.
“Whenever you lose a class of the caliber it hinders you,” Echterling said. “We lost like seven starters and that is over half of our starting lineup, but we’re getting into it really fast.”
The new class for the Lady Saints will have tremendous shoes to fill. At goalkeeper freshman Kristin Nelson and junior transfer Hope McArthur will compete for the job vacated by Kate Carver who was named to the All Region team in her senior year. Freshman Kincaid Schmidt will step in at defender. Bishop Kenny graduate Ashlyn McGregor and Ormond Beach native Tiffany Urquhart will have the biggest shoes to fill following in the footsteps of Melissa Simpson, Marissa McConihay and Jessica Potter at forward. Eileen New and St. Augustine native Meredith Marshall will compete for time in the midfield.
“Our schedule this season is way more intense this year or than its ever been,” Poore said. “So if we lose games people are going to be thinking its because we lost the senior class from last year, but really it’s just our schedule is so intense. We’re already to the point we were last season this year in preseason. For these freshmen it’s really awesome that they stepped up.”
Meyer believes that top to bottom and depth wise, this year’s team compares favorably to last year’s and that his squad is ready for the tougher competition.
“[Last year] was a great year,” he said. “It’s good because I came in with a great class and I got to see them have a great year and they helped me to set up a program now that’s on the winning track. I think our ability to keep the ball on the ground and keep possession is going to be our key this year. I think we have players that can play all different kinds of positions other then goalkeeper. There are probably seven or eight players that can play, legitimately, almost any position on the field.”
The ladies play one of the more interesting schedules in college sports this season. They are one of only two women’s soccer programs in the country playing an NAIA team, a NCAA Div. III, a NCAA Div. II team and a NCAA Div. I team. The schedule also includes top 20 teams from each division, giving the ladies a big challenge in their first NCAA season.
“It’s going to be really good and it’s going to help mold our program for years to come by starting off our first year at Div. II at such a high level,” Echterling said.
According to Meyer, the team is set on winning as any games as possible and the lack of postseason eligibility just drives that goal.
“Another goal is I want to see these girls progressing toward their degree,” he said, “Another goal should be our team GPA right at or above 3.0. I know that’s an important goal and it’s not on the field, but it helps in other places and it’s the other important reason why they’re here at Flagler College.”
Meyer believes that his team should set the precedent for Flagler as one of the first sports to start Division II and where things should be. “Not that we’re going to struggle for the next couple years, that we’re going to contend and compete and we’re going to be there every game,” he said.
His players agree and have it on their mind to put Flagler women’s soccer on the map around the country.
“We’re the first team at Flagler to ever play Div. II,” Echterling said. “We just want to make it a season to remember.”