Last season, head coach Mark Misiak took over the SUNY Potsdam women's soccer program with the intention of changing its style of play from defending to attacking. The Bears battled limited personnel, injuries and one of the toughest conferences in the region. As result, the team fell short of its expectations. Heading into his second season, Misiak has added 15 new faces to shore up key areas of the lineup, but the plan is the same.
“I think we brought in a couple of players this year who can really offer a dynamic attacking threat,” Misiak said. “Players that want to go at people and break defenses down. Last year, we tried to transition to a more attacking style. This year, I think it will come to fruition. We'll be attacking teams a lot more than we'll be defending.”
Misiak admits his team is inexperienced, but is confident in his players' ability to succeed.
“We're super young and we'll have a lot of growing pains, but I have no doubt that our freshmen can adjust to the rigors of college soccer,” added Misiak. “It's just a question of how long it will take. The sooner we can adjust, the sooner we'll have success. It's a tough league so with a lot of freshmen being thrown into the fire, it's going to be a big challenge to get off to a good start, but that's definitely our hope.”
The Bears return the heart of their offense in senior forward Heather Johnson (8 goals, 2 assists, 18 points) and junior midfielder Ashley Thayer (6 goals, 1 assist, 13 points), who ranked first and second in scoring last season. Potsdam's key losses include defensive leaders Maribeth Simmons, Taylor Jordan and Emily Doyle as well as goalkeeper Dedra Palmer.
Johnson is the only returning forward for the Bears as Thayer has shifted to midfield and senior Stephanie Cox has moved to defense. Johnson will be joined by six freshmen. Misiak expects Erin McClusky and newcomer Nina Komosinski to make an immediate impact
“I think Erin is a very dynamic player who can go at defenses and make teams worry about her,” said the Bears second-year head coach. “Nina has a knack for finding herself in the right place at the right time. She's a quality finisher.”
Freshmen Emilie Ross, Brenna Vukelic and Ally Blazey, who will also see time at midfield, will battle to get on the field.
Thayer will add an offensive boost to the midfield corps with her relocation.
“With Ashley's pace and the fact that she's naturally gifted with a left foot, we expect her to create a lot of scoring chances for us,” Misiak said.
Four others return to the Bears' midfield this season, led by sophomore Kate Clauss, who started all 12 games she played in 2011. Sophomore Kristin Webster saw action in 17 of Potsdam's 18 contests along with two starts. Sophomores Alli Cleaver (15 games, 14 starts) and McKaylah Philo (16 games, 10 starts) will split time between midfield and defense.
Jess Sterns and Bri McClusky, Erin's twin, standout among the six newcomers to the Bears' midfield.
“I think Jessica is going to be a great attacking threat from midfield,” said Misiak. “With Sterns and Kate Clauss, we have a really dynamic and solid central midfield. And Bri is a very cerebral player who can find splitting passes and free up her teammates with a good final ball.”
Freshmen Morgan Clark, Erica Nielsen and Cassandra McNitt give Potsdam more depth in the midfield, while Summer Bader will see action at both midfield and defense.
The defense will be energized by returnees Cox and grad student Alissa Tischler. Misiak is very pleased to have them both back.
“I think Stephanie is making the adjustment to defense really well in preseason,” said Misiak. “She's a very hard-nosed defender and is as solid as a rock in the back for us.”
Tischler's return after a potentially career-ending knee injury just five games into the 2011 season provides a huge morale boost for the Bears. Misiak has been very encouraged by what he's seen from Tischler so far.
“Alissa looks real good, so obviously I'm really impressed by that,” Misiak said. “I'm sure she had some jitters about the first contact and the first real difficult practice, but she's come through with flying colors and she looks to be back to tip-top shape. She's also been dynamite in the leadership role. She's so smart and we can bounce her around to lots of positions.”
The duo is joined by seniors Frankie Centofanti, Brittany Martin and three talented freshmen. Chloe Hay will make her presence felt at both ends of the field.
“Chloe has been a force at left back for us,” said Misiak. “Not only is she a good defender, but she's able to get up and down and offer an attacking option.
Katie LaVoie and Marissa Skaczkowski will solidify an already skilled defense.
The Bears will feature an entirely different goalkeeping contingent from 2011, though one face is familiar. Senior Lisa Bates returns after a two-year absence. Bates saw time in 10 games during the 2009 season and made two starts. She posted a 1.10 goals-against-average in 326 minutes. Freshmen Shannon Weader and Jaime Durant join Bates in the fight for playing time.
“I feel great about our situation in between the sticks,” Misiak said. “The biggest headache for me is that only one of them can play at a time. It's going to be a game-by-game decision as to who's going to step in goal from minute one.”
The Bears open the season at home on Sept. 1, against Hilbert College in their first Potsdam College Soccer Cup. Potsdam kicks off its challenging SUNYAC slate with a home contest against North Country rival Plattsburgh on Sept. 22. The Bears will also face a rigorous nonconference schedule, including Ithaca College and local adversaries Clarkson, St. Lawrence and Canton.