Colleen Williams & Dayton Will Look To Light Up The A10 Again In 2012
ACC – Clemson | Miami (FL) | NC State
Big XII – Iowa State | Kansas | Oklahoma | TCU | Texas | Texas Tech
Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Georgetown | Louisville | Notre Dame | Pittsburgh | Providence | Rutgers | Seton Hall | South Florida | St. John’s (NY) | Syracuse | UConn | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern | Ohio State | Purdue | Wisconsin
Mid-Majors – Boston University | Central Michigan | Denver | Florida Gulf Coast | Harvard | Illinois State | La Salle | New Mexico | Rice | Richmond | Samford | Stephen F. Austin | Toledo | UMass | Utah State | Western Michigan | William & Mary
Pac-12 – Arizona | Arizona State | Cal | Colorado | Oregon | Oregon State | USC | Utah | Washington | Washington State
SEC – Alabama | Arkansas | Georgia | Kentucky | LSU | Mississippi State | Missouri | Ole Miss | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt
WCC – BYU | Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | Portland | San Diego | San Francisco | St. Mary’s (CA)
Dayton didn’t quite have it all their way in 2011, despite winning the A10 Tournament once again and making it back to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season. Heavy favorites to retain their Atlantic 10 title, the Flyers ended up dropping to third in the league, two points behind champions La Salle. But Dayton had done more than enough to make it into the field of sixty-four, even if they hadn’t captured the league’s auto bid, thanks to their strong non-conference performance.
It’s almost an accepted fact now that UD is talented enough to challenge just about anyone in the nation on their day as they’ve grown into one of the nation’s top mid-majors. Long a force in the A10, Dayton have been watched over by the keen eye of Mike Tucker for the better part of a decade and a half. The Flyers soared above the competition for many of the formative years of the A10 as a soccer conference, winning a mouth watering seven straight league titles from 1998-2004. Dayton also collected four A10 Tournament titles for good measure, earning themselves four NCAA Tournament berths via the A10 auto bid and added an at-large bid in 2002 for good measure.
While Dayton found progress difficult in the NCAA Tournament in most seasons, they did manage to make a little magic in 2001, beating Maryland and Miami (OH) to advance to the program’s first Sweet Sixteen where they’d eventually fall short against national powerhouse UCLA. But in 2005, the Flyers came back to the pack and then some, dropping into mid-table in the A10. For some, finishing in the middle of one of the better mid-majors in the country wouldn’t be much to sweat over, but for a program that had experienced so much success in the league in previous years, it was a bit of a letdown.
Dayton wouldn’t collect any more trophies in 2007 or 2008, but they’d fight their way up the RPI and end up right on the bubble come Selection Monday. There’d be no mistake in 2009 though as the Flyers pulled off the feat of an undefeated regular season (though aided by six draws), winning the program’s first major trophy in five years in the process. Dayton sealed the deal with an A10 Tournament final win over conference nemesis Charlotte to lock up their return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004. There weren’t any jitters in their first Big Dance appearance in quite a while either, with the Flyers stifling Marquette’s offense en route to a shootout win after a scoreless draw. The Flyers would ultimately meet their match in the second round when they fell to Virginia Tech, 3-1, but the defeat did little to temper the newfound enthusiasm that had bubbled to the surface in Dayton after the double winning season.
UD would retain both of their titles in 2010, including lifting the A10 Tournament title again after coming up trumps in an extra time thriller over arch-rivals Charlotte. The Flyers wouldn’t be sent far for the first few rounds of the NCAA Tournament, being dumped in Ohio State’s regional, and would also meet a familiar foe in the first round, with 2009′s NCAA Tournament conquerors, Virginia Tech waiting. Dayton would get sweet revenge though, beating the Hokies decisively before being frustrated by the Buckeyes in the second round en route to a shootout defeat.
The goal in 2011 was obviously to keep up their A10 dominance while making more of an impact on the national level. Four wins over middling opponents to open up showed the Flyers in fine form before they were beaten at home by Wisconsin, 3-1, in a match they really should have taken at least a share of the spoils from. The club would bounce back in a big way though, first beating Kansas to record a big RPI win before finally getting the better of nemesis Ohio State, topping the Buckeyes in Columbus, 1-0. Three days later, the Flyers took another huge step towards the NCAA Tournament by beating SEC side Kentucky, themselves flying in the RPI after a strong start.
The blistering non-conference form would help take a little of the sting out of a tepid start to A10 play, with UD going just 3-2-0 in their opening five matches in the league, losing at both La Salle and Richmond. The club would roll to four straight wins back at home to close out the regular season, but the early stumbles had been enough to see the Flyers drop to third in the league and into a first round match in the A10 Tournament for the first time in a while. It would be another reprisal of the Dayton-Charlotte rivalry that had burned so brightly for the past half-decade. But with the 49ers far from their best this year, some of the edge had been taken off the matchup, and the Flyers won with no difficulties, 4-0.
They’d proceed to avenge the defeat to Richmond in the semi-finals, setting up a title match against an upstart UMass side looking to steal a bid to the Big Dance. The final was as one-sided a title game as there was during Championship Week though, as the Minutewomen froze under the big lights, with Dayton rolling to a 5-1 win and another conference tournament title.
Against another red hot team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Dayton would see their offensive edge blunted, with their finishing letting them down against Louisville. The game was relatively even on the stat sheet, by the Cardinals took their chances and ended Dayton’s season with a 2-0 win. Calling a 19-4-0 season a letdown seems ludicrous on its face, but given the depth of talent on the Flyers, third in the league and a first round exit in the NCAA Tournament could be seen as just a wee bit disappointing.
Still, that those thoughts could even pop into one’s mind shows just how high standards have risen in Dayton. Sixty-nine wins in four seasons is a staggering total, and given the pipeline of talent still coursing through the program, the Flyers will likely be adding plenty more wins to the program’s total in the near future.
The time to strike though might be right now, as the club enjoys its last season having the services of All-American forward Colleen Williams available to them. Williams added U23 international to her long list of plaudits in the offseason, getting a much deserved call-up after slicing through defenses like so much butter yet again last year. Sixteen goals and fifteen assists were a fantastic return, and the senior may have an outside shot at twenty goals and twenty assists this year.
Those assists are possible with the return of ancillary options Juliana Libertin and Kelsey Smigel, who tallied twenty-three goals combined themselves last year. It makes for a three headed monster that could well chew up the A10 this season. The offense better score and score often though, because the defense takes some serious blows with the loss of three starters, including both center-backs. Last season’s defense was pretty formidable, meaning Tucker has a whole lot of scrambling to do if the Flyers are to keep a similar defensive pace.
There’s little margin for error either, with the A10 looking like a brutal league this year. The Flyers do miss out on La Salle but will afce potential crunch showdowns with Richmond and UMass. Games against the likes of bubble contenders Boston University, Central Michigan, and Harvard loom as well, meaning Dayton’s at-large credentials should be stiffly tested throughout.
Given the massive overhaul the backline faces, it’s a pretty good thing that Dayton returns a pair of experienced, talented goalkeepers to the fore. Junior Jordin Melchert likely enters the new season as the club’s top option after finishing last year as the club’s starter. It was something of a shock considering Melchert hadn’t played at all as a rookie in 2010. She saw a half of action in two non-confernece games and had also started and finished the club’s win against Kansas but didn’t take over as a full-time starter until late October in the league against Saint Joseph’s. She’d go the rest of the way in the league and in the postseason, with the club going 7-1-0 in her starts down the stretch.
The other option is Katherine Boone, a senior who has endured a star crossed career with the Flyers to say the least thus far. Boone came in as a freshman and won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award, looking for all the world like she was on the fast track to stardom. It hasn’t been quite so easy since, as Boone’s lost the starting job two times over the last two seasons. Last year wasn’t quite as bad as 2010, where she played just seven games, but to have been relegated to second choice during a critical stretch of the season couldn’t have done wonders for Boone’s confidence. While you’d guess Melchert would be first choice going into camp based on the end of last season, Tucker’s shown he’s not afraid to make a change midstream, making it a possibility that Boone could find herself back on top rather easily in Dayton at some point this year.
The Flyers have a whole lot of shuffling to do if they’re to be a defensively sound side this season. Losing a whopping three starters from the back four doesn’t bode well, especially with returning depth looking to be a bit shaky. The biggest loss is of left-back Kathleen Beljan, one of the nation’s leading full-backs for the better part of four seasons. An All-Region First Team selection as a senior, Beljan could often be found marauding up the flanks to support the attack while also helping contribute to Dayton’s fearsome defense. She may have missed the opening four games of her senior season, but Beljan proved why she was so important coming back with an excellent final campaign with the Flyers.
Also gone are both center-backs, with Emily Kenyon and Kelsey Miller both departing. Kenyon leaves as a four-year starter for the Flyers, able in both midfield and defense for Tucker’s side. In addition to being one of the club’s bulwarks at the back as a senior, Kenyon actually enjoyed a fairly accomplished season supporting the offense as well, chipping in with a career high five assists. Miller wasn’t quite as much a factor on offense, but the Barrington native again reprised her role in the center of defense for the Flyers. She leaves as another four-year starter that must be replaced by Dayton this year.
Perhaps the only sure thing returning in defense this season is junior Meghan Scharer. The starting right-back for last season’s Dayton squad broke into the starting lineup as a sophomore after mainly being used as a reserve as a rookie in 2010. She’d start seventeen matches last season and finds herself in the unenviable position of being a veteran leader despite just a year as a starter. Scharer’s versatile and deceptively good in the air though and should be up to the challenge this year though.
As for the other starters? Well, that’s certainly up in the air. Junior Sarah Senoyuit has seen a lot of time at defensive midfielder thus far but is also capable in defense and played on the backline in the Spring. She was a lineup mainstay last season and has some much needed size (5’10″) to bring to the center-back position potentially. Sophomore Allison Klinefelter was one of the team’s top reserves as a rookie last year and is capable of playing both out wide and in the middle. With so many vacancies, you’d think that she’ll be able to find a spot on the starting backline somewhere this year. It’s slim pickings after them though, so Tucker will have to either repurpose some other returnees or bank on some freshmen to impress. Either way, given all that was lost, it’s difficult to see this group not taking a step back this year.
The losses are a little more contained in midfield for the Flyers, with the club set to lose only reserves coming into the new season. Kelsey Owen made a big impression early with five goals as a rookie but never could parlay that into a big time scoring role and was only really a serious starter in 2010, making just a single start last year with a goal and two assists as a senior. Nicole Peterson began her career at Seton Hall but played at Dayton for a few seasons, including seven appearances as a senior last year. Estonian international Katrin Loo also departs after just one season. She only scored one goal, but it may well be a famous one in Dayton history, being the game winner against hated rivals Ohio State.
Much of the firepower from midfield will come from Libertin, a deadly threat on the right wing who enjoyed a breakout season in 2011. Libertin had shown very well as a rookie, starting all but one game and collecting six assists but was a class apart last year. Three goals and three assists in the opening four games set the pace for a ten goal, ten assist season that featured a three goal, one assist showing against Temple and three assists against UMass in the A10 Tournament final among other dazzling displays. She’s one of the league’s very best and should again run riot over most league defenses.
Senior Alexis Garcia had been the one with a big nose for goal just a season earlier, with six goals despite being mostly used as an impact sub, though the one she’ll be remembered for was the golden goal against Charlotte in the A10 Tournament final in 2010. She moved back into the starting lineup this season and finished with three goals and three assists on the season. Her veteran experience may be what’s most vital though, considering the amount of seniors lost to graduation.
Left-winger Alysha Mallon has juggled between defensive and midfield roles this season, though midfield was her calling for much of last season. Not as much of a goalscoring threat as some of her midfield teammates, Mallon nonetheless made an impact on offense, with six assists, including in four straight games. Considering three of the opponents in that stretch were Kansas, Ohio State, and Kentucky, it was no small feat! With the team’s needs on defense though, Mallon might find herself back on the backline this year.
Junior Stephanie Emery has seemingly been on the verge of a full-time starting role for two seasons now, having accumulated sixteen starts combined for the club. The Chicago native has also shown an offensive spark, netting two times in each season and could finally make the step up this year. Sophomore Haley Keller was a key reserve last year, seeing time in twenty games and scoring three goals and could be in line for more minutes this season, while classmate Lacey Engle will undoubtedly be hoping for more after playing in just a handful of games last year. Senoyuit could also slot back into her defensive midfield role if the club finds some other solutions in defense.
Additionally, the club adds even more firepower with the addition of rookie attacking midfielder Lesley Chilton. A mainstay on the Region II ODP squad, Chilton can also play up front and gives Tucker yet another weapon to work with. This group is stacked with talent and should score plenty of goals while assisting just as many, making them one of the league’s best units.
Though the club’s offensive meal ticket in Williams returns to pillage opposing defenses again, the club must replace some depth within the ranks. England’s Josie Grant had seen little in the way of success on the scoresheet coming into 2011 but had a fine season as a senior, including a hat trick against Middle Tennessee State. Grant would also have two assists against UMass in the A10 Tournament final as Dayton romped to victory. Also departing is sophomore Maggie Murnane, a once highly touted recruit who struggled with the club, seeing time in just six matches last year.
The superstar of Dayton soccer is Williams, who comes into the new year as one of the country’s best collegiate strikers and will be looking to further her name in program history this season. Eighteen goals and twelve assists as a sophomore was a hard act to follow, but Williams all but did so last year, blistering opposing defenses. She started with two goals and an assist in her first two games of 2010 and didn’t look back, saving her best for last with an unbelievable run of seven goals and seven assists in the club’s final three league games and the three A10 Tournament matches. Though only Northwestern kept her without a shot on goal last year, she did end up with a few more pointless games against top opposition then she probably would’ve liked, so Williams will be taking aim at proving her skills against the biggest clubs this year.
She’ll have a great running mate in Smigel, who looks like the club’s next great attacking sensation. Smigel came in with many plaudits as a rookie and showed she was the real deal with a stunning thirteen goal, five assist season. That included a crazy ten goal in seven games run from the middle of A10 season through the first game of the A10 Tournament. She figures to only get better with age and forms one of the nation’s elite scoring duos with Williams.
If you want to quibble, you could accuse Dayton of not having a huge amount of depth in the frontline, with sophomore Amanda Sivic one of the top reserve options coming back. Sivic was a highly touted rookie last year but very much played second fiddle to Smigel in the end and didn’t record a point in fifteen appearances. With Williams and Smigel leading the charge and Libertin more than able in midfield though, there should be relatively few worries on offense this year for the Flyers.
Dayton could be the archetypal glass cannon in 2012. The Flyers have enough firepower to sink an armada and should easily blow away most of their A10 opponents this season. The problem is, a whole lot of departures on defense have weakened the club’s resistance to opposing attacks considerably. While that doesn’t figure to hurt them too badly in a non-conference schedule which, it has to be said, features some rather middling opposition, it could come back to haunt them down the line against the likes of Richmond and La Salle (in the A10 Tournament).
Missing the Explorers and their high powered offense in the regular season is a huge break though, and one that ultimately might mean more silverware coming home to Dayton. The brilliance of Williams alone might be enough to get this side past the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, but unless Tucker can mold a cohesive and strong defense by season’s end, extended progress looks unlikely.