Eastern returns nearly 80-percent of its scoring after finishing above .400 last year for the first time since 2009
The buzzword surrounding this year's edition of Eastern Washington Women's Soccer? Attack, attack, and attack some more.
After finishing last season above .400 for the first time since 2009, EWU will look to attack more consistently in 2013. A more consistent attack leads to more shots, and more shots lead to more scoring chances. With the firepower and experience returning to the Eagles' squad, a more exciting brand of soccer isn't out of the question.
"Simply put, we need to get more shots," head coach George Hageage said. "If you look over the last few years, even though we tend to get outshot in total shots, we tend to have more quality chances. If we can get off five more shots a game knowing that three of those shots will probably be on goal, we'll have more of an opportunity to score goals."
Leading Eastern's offensive attack is junior forward Cassie Black. The Battle Ground, Wash., native earned All-Big Sky Second Team honors last season after pacing the Eagles with eight goals while adding a pair of assists. She put away a school-record four game-winning goals last year, upping her career total to a program-best seven game-winners. The only player in the Big Sky to notch a hat trick in 2012, Black will be the focal point of EWU's potent attack.
Senior forward Siara Byers, who accounted for two scores last season, also returns, as do goal-scorers Caitlin Hepworth, Torri Sitzman, Haley Stading, Alisha Stott and Kayla Sutter. All told, Eastern welcomes back nearly 80-percent of its scoring from its 2012 campaign, giving EWU plenty of experience in the goal-scoring department.
The Eagles also return a strong defensive unit highlighted by junior goalkeeper Nathalie Schwery. Hailing from Switzerland, Schwery split time last year with former goalkeeper Jamie Walker, seeing action in nine games. Had she played enough minutes, her save percentage of .850 would have ranked among the top 30 nationally.
Schwery will be commanding a backline that includes returning starters in senior Brianna Brannan and juniors Sutter and Jessica Wallace. All three started every game in which they played last year, with Wallace and Sutter starting all 18 of EWU's matches. Brannan earned All-Big Sky Second Team honors despite breaking her leg near the end of the season, cutting her year short.
Eastern's midfield also appears solid as junior Stading and senior Katy Allen man a group of players looking to make an impact. Allen earned All-Big Sky Honorable Mention honors last year after starting 13 matches while Stading tied the program's single-season assists record with four while contributing one goal.
"We have a good core of returning players," Hageage said. "It's a good feeling when you know you're going to have leadership coming from both your juniors and your seniors. You never know how a soccer season will shake out, but I'm excited about where we are at this point, and I think we have a tremendous group coming back."
EWU also welcomes back a group of sophomores eager to earn their place in the team's lineup. Taylor Berdar and Rachel Robertson will push for minutes as part of the Eagles' defensive unit while Shayla Weiler, Hepworth and Stott will look to make an impact in the midfield and up top. All five played at least 10 games last year and will give Hageage plenty of options to work with.
"We have a nice sophomore class that didn't get much time on the field last year," said Hageage. "I'm really looking for a couple of them to step up. We saw a lot out of this group during our spring season, and I expect them to replicate that performance this fall."
While perhaps not in line for a large amount of playing time, this year's freshman class has the look of a group that will develop into a solid unit in the years to come. Two new goalkeepers, Clara Elsholz and Courtney Young, will give Eastern different options between the woodwork while midfielders Paige Gallaway and Hailie McClure, along with defender Laci Rennaker, also look poised to see time early.
"I think this year's group of freshman has the potential to be really good," Hageage said. "It's just a matter of when that's going to happen. At the very least, the group will give us solid depth this year, but I expect some of the players to come in and battle for positions from the start."
Eastern will be tested with a strong nonconference schedule that includes tilts versus in-state rivals Gonzaga, Seattle and Washington State, while road trips to Nevada, Idaho and North Dakota State round out the nonleague slate. EWU opens its season with Gonzaga and Seattle at home before traveling to Nevada at the end of August. The Eagles kick off September with a quick trip to Pullman, Wash., to square off with the Cougars before hosting Fresno State and traveling to Idaho. A two-game tournament hosted by North Dakota State rounds out Eastern's nonconference schedule.
"It's important to play a tough nonconference schedule in order to prepare for the rigors of the Big Sky," said Hageage. "We have so many quality teams in our area that it makes scheduling relatively simple. Opening with Gonzaga and Seattle will make for a fun first weekend, while Washington State will prove an exciting challenge for us. We look forward to taking on Nevada at their place because it's such a tough place to play that it will really prepare us for the tough road environments in our league."
Fans of Eastern can expect a more attacking brand of soccer in 2013 as a strong group of upperclassmen mixed with promising up-and-comers look to lead the Eagles to new heights this fall.