NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University women's soccer team enters the 2018 season with a new coach and a large group of newcomers as the Cadets look to make their first postseason appearance since 2011.
Former assistant coach Heather Faasse was promoted to the head women's soccer/lacrosse coaching position last spring. She immediately set a goal to change the culture of the program that was a regular GNAC championship contender in the 2000s.
Norwich began preseason looking to improve its team fitness and overall camaraderie. The task was to complete a 12-mile hike up Mount Ellen, which is part of the nearby Sugarbush Mountain ski resort.
"Sometimes it's easier to start at the bottom of the mountain and climb your way to the top rather than holding your position on top," Faasse. "We're ready to make that climb this year and that's why we climbed a mountain as team to get our mindset and motivation for the year."
Over the last four years, Norwich has been stuck at three wins each season, including last year's 3-12 mark.
The Cadets return 17 players from last year's squad and have 10 newcomers joining the squad this fall looking to make the leap back in the GNAC postseason.
"The biggest thing since we've been working on since last spring and carrying into this preseason is changing our culture," Faasse said. "We've changed our team expectations and have everyone holding each other accountable. We don't want to be that team that only wins a couple games of year and misses the GNAC playoffs. I think the team camaraderie has been excellent so far and we've addressed our biggest hurdle so far with changing the culture of this program."
While last year's leading scorer and captain Ashley Carvalho graduated this past May, the Cadets do return their next two highest scorers in sophomore Sydney Rocheville (Salem, Mass.) and junior Madison Oelker (West Liberty, Ohio). Rocheville scored four goals, while Oelker had three.
Faasse fully expects plenty of the new faces from her recruiting class to compete for time and potentially start right away.
"I think we've had a lot of different freshmen and returning players step up into some big roles for us so far this year," she said. "I've really enjoyed watching everything come together during preseason."
In goal, the Cadets return their starter from last year in sophomore Katie Bishop-Manning (New York, N.Y.). Bishop-Manning went 3-8-0 with a .755 save percentage and a 2.32 goals against average in 13 games.
Bishop-Manning won't be without competition however as four new goalies are in camp looking to compete for time in the net. Junior transfer from Northern Vermont University at Johnson Kaila Lemmer (Barnard, Vt.) comes in with a wealth of collegiate playing experience. There are also three freshmen goalkeepers that will look to find time in net as well.
"We're going to have a really young unit with our oldest returning goalie as a sophomore in returning starter Katie Bishop-Manning," Faasse said. "The rest of the goalies are freshmen or newcomers to the program but have been showing the ability to push Katie this year."
In front of the goalkeepers will be another young unit with mostly freshmen and sophomores making up the starting back line. Junior Mary-Kait Mace (Canton, N.Y.) and sophomore Sierra Thornton (Proctor, Vt.) return. Freshman Sara Marcotte (Enfield, Conn.) is expected to compete for time right away as well.
"We're going to have a lot of freshmen and sophomores in the back line," Faasse said. "We're really trying to groom them to be a solid unit. Having the young players in the back might be a bit of a learning curve but we're really excited to see how well the unit will grow and contribute as they get more college soccer games under their belts."
After playing out wide the last two years, junior Madison Oelker (West Liberty, Ohio) is transitioning from outside to the middle this year to try and get one of the most experienced players more touches and into the action.
Senior Danielle Johnson (Groton, Mass.) has played significant minutes over the course of her collegiate career and will factor into a defensive center midfield position.
Up top, Norwich returns sophomore speedster Zorya Webster (Corning, N.Y.), who scored one goal in limited action last year after being hampered by injury. Freshman Karyssa Lachance (Gorham, N.H.) will also give NU another option on offense with a similar skill set to Webster.
"Webster and Lachance are both really quick up top and should put pressure on defenses when we can get the ball up to them," Faasse said.
Norwich was picked to finish 11th in the 13-team GNAC Preseason Coaches' Poll released last week.
"Making conference playoffs is our biggest goal this year," Faasse said. "I think a lot of teams might be surprised at what Norwich is this year. We're hoping to upset the schools picked in front of us in the preseason poll."
The Cadets open the 2018 season at Newbury College on Friday, August 31 at 3:30 p.m. NU returns home to host Pine Manor at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 1.