The University of New Hampshire women's soccer team is poised to extend the league's longest active America East Championship tournament appearance streak to six consecutive years in the 2006 season.
To do that, the Wildcats will continue their solid play on the defensive side of the ball - the 'Cats shut out eight opponents and held three others to just one goal in 2005 - while also increasing their goal production.
A good building block for the offense is sophomore forward Sara Hourihan, the 2005 America East Rookie of the Year who broke UNH's freshman records for both goals (12) and points (26) in a season. Hourihan broke another school record with a goal in five consecutive games, which included four straight two-goal efforts, and netted five game-winning goals. With 12 goals and two assists, Hourihan factored into more than half of the team's 27 goals a year ago.
New Hampshire also returns a pair of four-goal scorers in junior Adriana Gonzalez-Medina and sophomore Michelle Sheehan, both of whom tied for second in goals behind Hourihan. Gonzalez-Medina, an America East All-Rookie Team selection in 2004, also tied for the team lead in assists to rank second overall in points and garner Honorable Mention accolades last year. She is a multi-threat player because of her speed and strong ball possession skills. Sheehan, who joined Hourihan on the '05 All-Rookie Team despite missing five matches due to injury, scored three of her four goals in conference play to lead the 'Cats in league goals and points.
The Wildcats anticipate the return of senior striker Jackie Wishoski, who redshirted last season and missed all but five games in 2004. As a sophomore in 2003, Wishoski broke the program's single-season records for both goals (18) and points (41) as she ranked No. 20 in the nation in both goals per game and points per game. She enters the 2006 season ranked fifth on UNH's career lists for both goals (26) and points (58).
Senior captain Hillary Mefferd and classmate Amanda Wiggins, as well as junior Marianne Rivard, will also figure prominently in UNH's attack. Wiggins, a 2005 All-Conference Second Team selection, is strong in the midfield and matched Gonzalez-Medina's assist total to tie for the team lead. Mefferd, always dangerous because of her blazing speed, missed time last year due to a long illness but was in the starting lineup for 10 of the 13 matches in which she played. The 'Cats expect Mefferd to regain her All-Conference First Team form of 2004 in '06. Rivard has significant experience in the midfield and will challenge to step into the starting lineup this season.
Junior Rhyan Radack has seen limited playing time as a collegian - she played in seven matches with four starts a year ago - but will battle for significant playing time in the midfield this year. Julie O'Shaughnessy played an integral role in the midfield rotation a year ago as a rookie and that role is likely to expand in 2006 as a sophomore. Katie Lutar, another junior, is coming off a strong spring season and will see action both as a midfielder and back.
UNH's strong defensive unit is anchored by captains Kelly Collins and Caitlyn Serafine. Collins, a senior, has made the transition from midfield to become a solidifying force in the defensive unit. Serafine played everywhere on the field in her first year as a Wildcat but eventually settled in at back. She excelled in that position in 2005 to earn All-Conference Second Team honors, and Serafine will direct the backs this season.
Senior Lia Barros and junior Nicole Lucey also bring a wealth of experience to the corps of backs. Barros brings invaluable leadership to the team on the field and in the locker room. Lucey, who garnered All-Rookie Team honors as a freshman at Boston University, was limited to nine matches in her first year in the Blue and White due to injury. Junior Kailyn Mulcahy and sophomore Casey Deiter will battle for playing time this fall.
In goal, senior Lynn Gugliuzza looks to reclaim her role as starter. After starting the final 10 matches of her 2004 sophomore season (8-4-0 overall; 1.24 GAA; .807 save percentage), Gugliuzza played a total of 135 minutes in '05. Nikki Golding redshirted the 2005 season and, along with incoming freshman Ally Yost, will challenge Gugliuzza for time in net.
Yost's freshman classmates are: Alex Hastings, whose experience is as a back; Shaunna Kaplan, who will add to the depth of the Wildcats' forward line; and Morgan Keefe, an attacking midfielder/forward. Rounding out the newcomers is New Hampshire native Kim Niedzwiecki, a sophomore transfer from Syracuse University.
New Hampshire opens the 2006 season with five consecutive road games, including two matches at the Oregon State University Nike Classic, before playing its home opener under the lights of Bremner Field against Rhode Island on Sept. 15. That game vs. the Rams is the start of a stretch in which the Wildcats play four of five games at home; the 'Cats also play host to Marist on Sept. 17 - in their first match at Lewis Fields - as well as UMBC (Sept. 24) and Hartford (Sept. 28), which mark the first two games of the America East portion of the schedule.
UNH opens October at Maine and continues on the road vs. Binghamton before returning home to battle Vermont (Oct. 8) and Stony Brook (Oct. 12). The 'Cats travel to play defending conference champion Boston University on the 15th, then will celebrate Senior Day against intrastate rival Dartmouth on Oct. 18 before concluding the regular season at Albany.
The America East Championship tournament begins Oct. 27 and the Wildcats look to extend their streak to six in '06.