The University of New Hampshire women's soccer team has advanced to the America East Championships three of the last four years, and the 1999 squad aims to maintain that success. "The goal is to return to the conference championships to fulfill our ultimate goal of competing in the NCAAs for a national title," fifth-year head coach Michael Jackson said. "Our conference champion is an automatic NCAA tournament qualifier and the challenge for that berth grows greater every year. All of our conference teams are improved."
The offensive unit returns almost entirely intact - all but one player who recorded a point last year returns - and is led by explosive forward Kristin Cannistraro, who registered team highs in goals, assists, points and shots. Fellow striker and tri-captain Tara Foley tied with sophomore midfielder Angeline Alexakos with the second-best goal total, and they finished second and third, respectively, in points. Also returning to the frontline is Marky Solomon, who made the transition from midfield to forward midway through the '98 season and finished with eight points. Jess Halas and Melissa Hanke, both juniors, are two other experienced forwards.
The midfield corps, in addition to Alexakos, is headed by junior Sue Abbene (the team leader in assists) and sophomore Farrell Swain. Swain's successful rookie campaign was highlighted by her game-winning goal against Boston University in the America East semifinals. Senior Chatham Flynn and a trio of sophomores - Sarah Sargent, Sam Madden and Kristy Hemsley - provide great depth at midfield, or on the front line if necessary.
"A strength of this team is depth," Jackson said. "We are fortunate to have a lot of talent and this also means options for our lineup."
Two-time America East First Team selection Michelle Thornton directs the backfield, which also includes senior tri-captains Nicole Coupland and Stacey Staff. Thornton is a sweeper who makes the offense more potent with her dangerous dribbling and passing skills. Andrea Encarnacao, who stepped into a starting role early last season, and Meaghan Foley are two other prominent backs. Jennifer Martin, who redshirted '98 due to ACL surgery, also returns to the mix.
In goal, UNH will have to atone for the loss of America East Second Team selection Lorien Snellings. One person primed to accomplish that is junior Steph Springer. She played a major role in UNH's success by appearing in 15 matches of a first-half-second-half platoon system utilized by coach Jackson. Springer, who played 704 of 1,829 minutes, registered a 2-2-0 record and shared six shutouts with Snellings; she also gained valuable minutes in the spring season. Incoming freshman Kristen Ouellette will challenge for playing time.
Coach Jackson and his' Cats welcome six newcomers to the 1999 squad. In addition to the aforementioned Ouellette, Stacey Horn, Courtney Papaz, Cyndi Poehner, Kathryn Purcell and Christy Smagula will attempt to break into the lineup.
New Hampshire kicks off the season at the America East-Big East Challenge against St. John's University on Sept. 4. UNH also plays Miami University in the tourney, which is hosted by Maine, and travels to Holy Cross before playing its Sept. 15 home-opener against nationally-ranked Harvard.
In another tournament, this one hosted by perennial national power UConn, the Wildcats will play Ohio University and West Virginia. The 'Cats close September - and begin their conference schedule - with home matches against Boston University and Northeastern.
October starts with a three-game road trip that includes NCAA Tournament participants University of Hartford and Dartmouth College and is followed by four consecutive home games. UNH concludes its conference slate with a pair of away games and finishes the regular season Oct. 27 in Durham against Providence College.
"Certainly as a result of last year's success, we are one of the conference teams our opponents will target," Jackson stated. "Out of the conference, our opponents will provide national and regional level competition."