FOND DU LAC, Wis. (SabreAthletics.com) – On the heels of the program's first Northern Athletics Conference Championship game appearance, expectations are high for the Marian University women's soccer team in 2012. The Sabres return 16 letterwinners and seven starters from a year ago, including All-Region goalkeeper, Caitlyn Rosenberger.
In just his third season at the helm, Head Coach Jason Murphy collected NAC Coach of the Year accolades for his team's 13-7 overall record and 10-2 mark in the NAC, good for a second-place regular season finish.
"Last year, we took a major step forward by tying a school-record for wins in a season and getting the conference championship game for the first time in school history," Murphy said. "This year, we need to take the next step and doing so is significantly harder."
Murphy's squad held opponents to the fewest number of goals in school history, surrendering only 21 and just five over an 11-game stretch that carried over to a 1-0 shutout of Edgewood in the NAC Tournament Semifinal. Defense should remain formidable, but scoring is what the Sabres will look to improve on in 2012.
"I would like for us to be able to score more systematic goals by scoring scores in transition and through keeping the ball," Murphy said.
Murphy mentioned that there were significant pieces lost, such as NAC first-teamers Mollie Tennessen and Chloe Kierszh, as well as, NAC honorable mention honoree, Taylor Hozeska. However, the Sabres return over 76 percent of their scoring from last season with leading scorers Laura Maly and Leisa Conn combining for 19 goals as freshman in 2011. Morgan Ansems and Brittany Syms will also look to be key contributors as they combined for 15 points as freshmen in 2011.
Despite that, Marian still ranked seventh out of 13 NAC teams with 43 goals in 2011, 47 goals fewer than defending champion, Aurora. One way to improve offensively this year will be to get more productivity from the midfield.
"We need to get more goals and productivity from our midfield by winning balls and moving balls through the center of midfield," Murphy said.
There is a mix of youth and experience in the midfield this year with Syms and junior Jade Koeune leading the way. Also joining the mix will be sophomore Maisie Floyd and sophomore transfer, Kylie McArthur.
The aforementioned Rosenberger will be looking to take the next step herself after a successful freshman campaign. The Pewaukee native burst onto the scene in 2011, winning the starting job after the first several games and compiling a 0.92 goals against average and league-leading .857 save percentage.
"It feels good knowing that you have someone in goal that consistently keeps you in games," Murphy said of Rosenberger. "We should have the ability to stay games by having a defense that can keep opponents from scoring goals."
The defense is young as well, but had good success last season. A year of experience under their belts should prove even more dividends in the ever-competitive NAC. NAC All-Freshman selection a year ago, Kelly Kulinski, and Nikki Rublee return as sophomores, guiding a back line that seeks to continue the positive trend in success the past few seasons.
If the Sabres are able to match or exceed last season's success, it won't be because of a cupcake schedule as three state schools, a CCIW opponent and two challenging match-ups in California are on the docket. Sept. 1-3, Marian heads to the greater Los Angeles area to take on West Region foes, Whittier and Pomona-Pitzer, to open the 2012 campaign. When they return home, a 2011 NAC Championship rematch awaits them as Aurora comes to town for the NAC home opener, Sept. 5.
The conference season will be tough as the Sabres travel to Wisconsin Lutheran (Sept. 13), Concordia Chicago (Sept. 21), Lakeland (Oct. 3), Benedictine (Oct. 13), Concordia Wisconsin (Oct. 17) and Alverno (Oct. 20). In addition to Aurora, NAC home games will see MSOE (Sept. 11), Edgewood (Sept. 25), Dominican (Sept. 29), Rockford (Oct. 6) and Maranatha (Oct. 23) visit Fond du Lac.
The non-conference slate features Elmhurst (Sept. 16) at home, UW-Stevens Point (Oct. 7) at home, UW-Oshkosh (Oct. 10) on the road and UW-La Crosse (Oct. 24) in the regular season finale at home.
The Sabres will visit Whittier, Calif. for the 2012 opener Saturday, Sept. 1, for a 10 a.m. pacific/noon central time start. Live stats and video links can be found by visiting sabreathletics.com.