In 2001, the University of New Hampshire women's soccer team returned to the postseason with an appearance in the America East Championships. The 2002 edition of the Wildcats, with a strong nucleus returning in the backfield and goal as well as an improved offense, expects to contend for a conference tournament berth yet again under the direction of eighth-year head coach Michael Jackson.
"Our 2002 team will be young," Jackson explains. "The roster includes eight freshmen and eight sophomores. There is talent in these underclassmen but there is also an unknown factor and an excitement about the possibilities. The upperclass veterans look to lead this team to a successful season."
The defense rests in the good hands of senior goalkeeper Kristen Ouellette (Weatogue, Conn.), the captain of the 2002 Wildcats. Ouellette started all 20 matches last season and played 1821 minutes, 16 seconds of a possible 1890:00 (96%). She limited the opposition to no more than one goal, including three shutouts, in 14 matches (70% of the matches) and her overall numbers included a 1.38 goals-against-average with a .774 save percentage. Sophomore Elizabeth MacKay (Scituate, Mass.) did not allow a goal in 68:44 of action last year and is expected to challenge Ouellette for more playing time in 2002.
The group of backs will be directed by senior Cyndi Poehner (Greenwich, Conn.). An excellent marker who possesses great soccer intuition, she is also a threat to carry the ball on counterattacks and create dangerous scoring opportunities with a service into the box.
Amber Radzevich (Hampstead, N.H.) and Shannon Oltman (Edmonds, Wash.) are intimidating physical presences on the backline. Radzevich, like Poehner, occasionally goes on the attack. Senior Stacey Horn (Kingston, Pa.) also provides a wealth of experience to the rotation. Amy Merrow (Keene, N.H.) saw limited action last year as a rookie.
The offense is expected to increase its productivity from last year's 1.30 goals per game. Chiara Best (Rose Valley, Pa.) led the 2001 Wildcats and broke the school's rookie scoring record with 21 points (eight goals, five assists). Junior Ana Tobon (Philadelphia) demonstrated her scoring ability by scoring three goals in a game against Albany and she finished the season with eight points. The duo of Best and Tobon account for 61% of the team's returning goals and 58% of the points.
Seniors Angeline Alexakos (Bedford, N.H.) and Courtney Papaz (Ringwood, N.J.) will be two other integral players on the attack. Alexakos redshirted the 2001 season after incurring an injury four games into the year. One year earlier, she was the second-leading goal producer on the team and ranked third in points. Papaz has provided energy and speed, as well as a scoring touch, off the bench in her three years as a Wildcat.
A number of players, led by junior Kristin Kearney (Sandown, N.H.) as well as sophomores Katie Sullivan (Worcester, Mass.) and Jacquelyn Kendall (Belchertown, Mass.), provide depth at midfield. Brittany Harris (Wayzata, Minn.), another sophomore should also figure in the midfield rotation.
Additional help on the front line will be provided by junior Molly Blessing (Amherst, N.H.) and sophomore Christine Breault (Hooksett, NH.).
The New Hampshire women's soccer program welcomes eight freshman in 2002. Two athletes hail from Connecticut (Erin Margentino, Debbie Newman), Massachusetts (Katie Mooney, Jackie Wishoski) and Pennsylvania (Lauren Engel, Kelly Stevens) and there is one player from both New Hampshire (Lindsey Smagula) and Wisconsin (Ashlee Cieslak).
UNH opens the 2002 season Aug. 31 against Georgia Southern at the University of Vermont's tournament. The Wildcats open their six-game home slate Sept. 8 vs. intrastate rival Dartmouth College. As the regular season winds down in late October, the 'Cats will play three of the last four matches at home with aspirations of becoming one of four conference teams to compete in the America East Championships (Nov. 8-10).