Women's Soccer Prepares To Defend Atlatnic Sun Title

Aug. 24, 2001

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - When JU head coach Mike Johnson administered his preseason challenge to the women's soccer team last fall, he simply said "Get it done". JU had advanced to the Atlantic Sun championship game for two consecutive seasons and now it was time to take the next step. The Dolphins responded by winning their first A-Sun title and advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. Along the way, JU won a school and conference-record 19 games, including a perfect 9-0 mark in league play.

So what does JU do for an encore in 2001? Take the next step and raise the bar, again. The challenge for the Dolphins this season is to maintain the level of play they have displayed over the past three seasons, while taking the program to the next level.

"We need to move forward with the growth of the program," says Johnson, who was tabbed the 2000 A-Sun Coach of the Year. "We have established ourselves as one of the top programs in the southeast over the last three years, but now we need to take it to a different level."

The program has been built around the core of three players to this point - Marit Foss, Stine Kloster and Trine Riis Groven. With the graduation of Foss and Kloster, the Dolphins will rely on a different formula for their success in 2001.

"We know the key to our success now is more of a team concept," says Johnson. "We are more talented as a whole, but the key will be for each individual player to play up to their potential."

For the second time (1999) in Johnson's four-year tenure at JU, the Dolphins have been picked by the league coaches as the favorite to win Atlantic Sun Championship - a goal that is already at the top of JU's list for the 2001 season.

"Our players are aware of the fact that we are going to have to play at a high level every game this season," says Johnson. "There is no room for error in our performance level because every team will bring their best game against us."

One of the biggest questions for the Dolphins this season will be the goalkeeper. With the loss of Melissa Cancio and Kristen Kirsch, who combined for 10 of the JU's 11 shutouts last season, the Dolphins will look to freshmen Stephanie Fowler and Jana Dreyer to make an immediate impact. Fowler's high-level club soccer experience has helped her adjust quickly to the speed and power of the collegiate game, and she has established herself as the favorite to start. Dreyer has the athletic ability to push Fowler for playing time, but is still making the adjustments to Division I level. Sophomore Sara Scalese also returns after playing sparingly as a freshman, while senior Leslie Walton will provide leadership for the newcomers.

If there are questions marks in goal for the Dolphins, then the answers are in the defense. JU returns four starters along the back line from last year's squad, which produced a school-record 11 shutouts, including three all-conference performers - Yvonna Rowinski, Hanni Wenzel and Tara Greggains - and a three-year starter - Kathy Ciriello.

Ciriello, who has started all 60 matches in her three seasons at JU, will provide senior leadership for the back line. She is a steady player who comes to play every game. Rowinski is a three-year starter at sweeper with the experience and composure to direct the team from the back. She is one of three team captains who will be counted on to keep the team focused throughout the season. Wenzel dominated during her freshman campaign en route to first-team All-Atlantic Sun honors, as well as being named to the All-Freshman Team. She finished fourth on the team with 15 points (7 goals, 1 assist) while starting all 22 matches.

"Hanni is the most physically dominating player at her position in the conference," says Johnson. "Here athleticism in the back gives us another dimension and allows us the flexibility to move some players around."

Greggains also earned All-Freshman Team honors last season with her relentless one-on-one defense. She is a tenacious defender who turned out to be the most pleasant surprise of the last year's freshman class. Sophomore Lauren Hart will add depth and experience after playing in 15 games in 2000, while freshmen Lindsay Eddy and Lauren Starmer will make an instant contribution. Freshman Joanna Christopher will also add depth on defense.

With the graduation of Foss, the Dolphins will have a big void to fill in the midfield. Foss is a two-time NCAA statistical champion in assists (1998, 2000) and ranks second all-time in the NCAA with 0.80 assists per game. Also gone is Dianne Scott, who started all 22 games last year and was fifth on the team in scoring with 14 points.

Despite the losses, the Dolphins return a more balanced and talented group of midfielders than they have had in the past - another sign that the program has grown.

"It's ironic that we lose one of most productive midfielders in NCAA history (Foss), yet we improve as a group," says Johnson. "This unit is the most talented and athletic group of midfielders since I've been here, but we will have to produce by committee."

Juniors Vanessa Illanes, Brooke Moore and Kristen Holstrom are the core of the returning midfielders. Illanes is a creative attacking midfielder who will be counted on to make plays. Moore, one of three team captains, is a steady player in the middle who will help organize and start the attack. Holstrom has the ability to score and create goals for others. After playing outside last year, she will move to the inside for the 2001 season where she will have an attacking role.

Sophomore Erika Chapman came on late in her freshman season as an attacking midfield player. She is versatile player who will play both midfield and forward, and will be counted on to provide scoring up front. Sophomore Erin Bitterli will move into a starting role on the outside, where she will looked upon to create scoring opportunities, while freshman Jenny Sniffen should make an immediate impact by stepping into the starting lineup as a rookie. Sniffen is an explosive outside midfielder who can create and score. Junior Julie Petrauskas and sophomore Dianne Herlihy should provide, as well.

The JU attack will also have to be distributed more this season with the graduation of Foss and Stine Kloster, who is the Dolphins' all-time leader with 53 career goals. Leading the charge for JU will be 2000 Atlantic Sun Player of the Year Trine Riis Groven. The senior tri-captain has been one of the most dominating offensive players in the conference over the past three seasons, including a league-high 17 goals last year to go along with 17 assists.

"Trine is a big-time player who has the composure and experience to shine in the big games," says Johnson. "She is a fierce competitor and we are counting on her to provide leadership, as well as scoring this season."

Joining Riis Groven up front is fifth-year senior Karen Novak, who returned from an injury midway through last season to help the Dolphins capture the conference title. Novak is a multi-faceted player who has played all four positions during her career at JU. Having scored 23 career goals, Novak will be needed as a scoring threat and will help take the pressure off of Riis Groven up front.

Sophomore Crystal Armstrong will have more of an impact role this year after a productive freshman season in which she scored four goals in 15 matches, while freshman Michaelene Cadiz is an immediate impact player with dynamic soccer ability. Cadiz, who scored 104 goals during her prep career, is explosive to the goal and will add a needed dimension to the offensive attack.

JU will play Miami and No. 9 Stanford during the exhibition season in order to prepare for league play. The Dolphins' home schedule is favorable as UCF, Florida Atlantic, Jacksonville State and Samford all come to Jacksonville this season, while a rematch with last year's NCAA opponent Florida State in October should be a good barometer for the Dolphins.

"If the freshman have the kind of impact we are expecting, and the all-conference players continue to produce at a high level, we can take that next step as a team," says Johnson.