In Durham, 2001 is the Return of the Wildcats.
The University of New Hampshire women's soccer team advanced to the America East tournament in 1995, 1996 and 1998 and the Wildcats are looking to make a fourth appearance in head coach Michael Jackson's seven years.
"One of our goals for the season is to return to the conference championships," said Jackson. "With an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament at stake, we want to be there."
One return on the field that could help the 'Cats return to the conference postseason is that of Michelle Thornton (Gloucester, Ont.), an America East All-Conference First Team selection in 1997 and 1998. Thornton, who missed the latter half of the 1999 season due to injury and redshirted in 2000, is back.
The talented and experienced backfield also includes senior co-captain Meg Foley (Marlborough, Conn.), classmate Kristy Hemsley (St. Bruno, Quebec) and juniors Stacey Horn (Kingston, Pa.) and Cyndi Poehner (Greenwich, Conn.).
"The experience, competitiveness and maturity of this group is exciting," Jackson stated.
Also returning to the backfield are sophomore Amber Radzevich (Hampstead, N.H.) and redshirt freshman Shannon Oltman (Edmonds, Wash.). Oltman played in the first five matches of 2000 but was sidelined by injury the rest of the year.
The defensive unit will be strengthened with the addition of freshmen Brittany Harris (Wayzata, Minn.) and Katie Sullivan (Worcester, Mass.). Amy Merrow (Keene, N.H.) also joins the team as a redshirt freshman.
The defense is bolstered by the return of goalkeeper Kristen Ouellette (Weatogue, Conn.). She was pressed into the starting lineup in the season opener against Texas-El Paso and responded with a shutout victory, her first of four shutouts on the season. All told, Ouellette started eight games and recorded a 1.17 goals-against-average with an .836 save percentage - a mark that ranked second in the conference. Newcomer Liz MacKay (Scituate, Mass.) will compete for the starting spot and playing time.
Producing goals has not been New Hampshire's strong point in recent years, but a number of players have worked hard to be in position for a breakout season. A talented senior group consisting of Angeline Alexakos (Bedford, N.H.), Sarah Sargent (Glastonbury, Conn.) and Farrell Swain (West Simsbury, Conn.) are three players who fit that mold. They were three of the team's top five scorers last season and are the top three returning scorers to the 2001 Wildcat squad.
Swain, who will serve with Foley as co-captain this year, led the team in goals, assists and points while Alexakos and Sargent tied for second on the team in goals and tied for third in points.
"These three seniors are an important part of the team's nucleus," Jackson said.
Juniors Courtney Papaz (Ringwood, N.J.) and Christy Smagula (Bedford, N.H.), as well as sophomores Molly Blessing (Amherst, N.H.), Kristin Kearney (Sandown, N.H.) and Ana Tobon (Philadelphia, Pa.), add versatility to the Wildcat attack and midfield.
First-year players Chiara Best (Rose Valley, Pa.), Christine Breault (Hooksett, N.H.) and Jacquelyn Kendall (Belchertown, Mass.) will look to find a scoring touch at the collegiate level.
New Hampshire's 2001 schedule features nine home matches, nine road games and it all begins this weekend with neutral-site games against Tulsa and Sacred Heart at the University of Vermont in the UVM Fall Soccer Classic. The Wildcats then play the first of five September home games when they host Colorado College on Sept. 7.
"Return is a key word this year", Jackson said. "This year's slogan for the athletic department is 'We are New Hampshire.' The opportunity awaits to show who we are."