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Women's Soccer: 2017 Position Preview - Forwards, Mid-fielders, Defenders, Goalkeepers

Part 4: Forwards

With the 2017 season upcoming Ragincajuns.com will be doing a positional preview both this and next week.  For this week, the midfielders and forwards will be spotlighted.
LAFAYETTE – Defense might win championships, but to get there the goals need to be scored by aggressive talented forwards, Louisiana's women's soccer team will be looking to tickle the net over and over during the 2017 season on their way to a possible championship.
Louisiana head coach Scot Wieland has three key seniors returning this season, along with plenty of talented women to choose from for his starting 11 to provide the Ragin' Cajuns exactly what they're looking for in the final third. 
"We're looking for composure and good decision making in our final third," said Wieland.  "But most of all we want our forwards to be dangerous, period."
One of the three returning seniors, is Ashleigh Cade, her 32 shots last season were third on the team, and her 11 assists lead the team last season bringing her career totals at Louisiana to 80 shots, 17 assists and six goals over three seasons with 3,470 minutes logged.
"Because I wasn't aggressive enough, I played some defense in previous seasons," said Cade.  "But that helped me understand how defenders might be thinking when I attack them and it allowed me to see how things unfold viewing the game from the back."
Cade isn't the only senior coming back with quality and experience from previous squads.
The two other key seniors returning are Denice Emokpae and Kimberly Grasso each suffered injuries that forced them to sit out the 2016 campaign.  But they each return this season ready to bring a dangerous mentality to the Cajun final third, while they look to make up for the missed season.
"It defiantly wasn't easy for me, not walking for a couple of weeks," said Emokpae.  "But the journey was made easier since I had my teammates to help me go through it. 
"And now that I'm healthy just being out on the field even if it's only for five minutes is great.  After everything, I'm just so grateful for the opportunity since not everyone gets a chance to be a college athlete."
Before suffering her injury Emokpae had cracked the starting lineup during her sophomore season in 2015.  She started in seven games and ripped off six shots, but her coming out party was during the 2014 season where she scored four times on 12 shots putting together a two-year total of 1,033 minutes for the Cajuns.

"On the field I've learned the that you can be dangerous by just setting people up to score and you don't have to always be the one to score," said Emokpae.  "Setting up my teammates is just as productive as scoring."

Grasso's return for the season means the return of an experienced goal scorer with 10 goals over three seasons to her name, with five each coming in both her sophomore and junior seasons.

"I'm super excited to be back from my injury," said Grasso. 
"Being hurt last year and watching all my roommates and teammates traveling made it hard.  But I learned a lot by watching from the sidelines. It brought me back to how I felt when I started playing soccer, and I'm out there just having fun again."

She also had a plethora of starts during her three season before injury, starting a total of 47 games while logging over 4,100 minutes and ripping 114 shots, almost half of which were on goal.
"Being a forward means that our job is to score," said Grasso.  "You see how things build up, the team works so hard to get it up to us, so when we get it, aggressiveness towards the goal with a do or die mentality fighting to get it in to goal is key to our success."
"Getting Emokpae and Grasso back from injury is great, and having Cade there along with those two for the younger players to view as the model of work ethic that we're looking for is extremely important for our success.
"I'd love to see a good balance from all three of them.  Neither one of them needs to carry the load, and I think they understand that, so if we get a good balance of attack from all three it would be great for us."
Louisiana's three returning seniors, are more than just hungry they're battle tested and aggressive, "we can't just be a 90-minute team," said Cade. 
"We have to enter the game with the mentally of being a 110-minute team.  Even if we don't play the extra period we need to enter the game putting forth 110 minutes of effort, which this team is capable of."
That mentality is exactly what coach Wieland is looking for and what the Cajuns need to be dangerous in the final third through the entire 2017 season.
"I feel that if we play the way that we can, I think that this team is good enough that we can win the conference this season," said Emokpae.  

* * * * *Ragin' Cajun Positional Preview Part 3: Midfielders

With the 2017 season upcoming Ragincajuns.com will be doing a positional preview.  For this week, the midfielders and forwards will be spotlighted.
LAFAYETTE – The middle of the pitch is where a team's attitude and tempo of the game is set and as things begin to break down it's important to have experienced players there to maintain a team's discipline while crushing a team's spirit by making quick, smart decisions with the ball.
For the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns women's soccer team the midfield is where the team's largest collection of experience sits and with a handful of returning seniors and starters from last year's team, the midfield should be one of the strongest parts of the Cajuns team this season.
Head coach Scot Wieland has several experienced players to choose from when he's putting his starting 11 together for every match, "Quick intelligent decisions, while quickly changing the point of attack, coupled with a strong work ethic is what we want from our midfielders," said Wieland.  "To be a center midfielder you need to have a little bit of an attitude which makes it a little different from other positions on the field."
Two key players returning to the mix with the attitude that coach Wieland is looking for are seniors Taylor Kennedy and Cassandra Reyes.  Both women were injured last season and missed most the 2016 season, but have returned for this season stronger and biting at the bit to get back out on pitch bringing with them a hunger to get back at it.
"I'm very grateful to be back from my injury," said Kennedy.  "You step out on the field and are just excited.  In the past, I'd get hard on myself when I would make a mistake and I could be taken out of my game but now just getting out there and having fun is what's most important."
Kennedy brings with her three years of starting experience, with 26 starts and over 2,600 minutes logged in a Cajuns uniform, while Reyes logged 500 minutes in her junior season after transferring from Cerritos College.  While at Cerritos she became one of their more experienced midfielders starting 18 games scoring six goals, including a goal during their postseason run in her freshman season.
"Sitting out for a year was weird for me.  You'd just be sitting on the sideline or the bleachers and you'd just watch the team from afar," said Reyes.  "What was sad was that you're not really involved with the team as much, but this season I've made up for lost time with my teammates and I'm just happy to be getting out there to play soccer again."
The experience doesn't end there with the Cajuns returning senior Haley Boroch, who's put together over 630 minutes during her time here.  Coupled with juniors Sarah Kozlowski, Lexi Turner and sophomore Melanie Groves who are all coming back into the fold this season.
"With the midfielders on this team having more experience it helps us adapt to different situations," said Reyes.  "And because of that the younger players can look up to us and follow the examples we set on the field."
In just two seasons as a Cajun, Kozlowski has started 30 games putting 2,695 minutes together in a Cajun uniform patrolling the midfield.  While Turner herself has started 10 games in her time at Louisiana, logging just over 1,000 minutes.  Groves has been a contributor as well starting in five games while piecing together 516 minutes during her freshman season as a Cajun.
"In the center, you're involved with a lot of aspects of the play so we need to be loud communicators," said Kennedy.  "We make sure that the entire team is staying together because of the position you play in, making sure that everyone is in their right spot."
Making sure the depth is there throughout the season, coach Wieland went out and added junior transfer Alexis Miller and recruited freshman Ally Busalacchi, who comes across the country from El Cajon, California where she was involved in several deep postseasons runs while leading her high school's defenders in scoring.
Miller, who transfers in from Folsom Lake College, is no stranger to Division 1 level soccer having spent her freshman year at New Mexico State, before transferring out after a season in the Mountain West Conference. 
"You're in a position that makes you like the quarterback of the team," said Miller.  "You're not just staying in one position, but instead you play everywhere.  If you have possession in the midfield then you have possession of the whole game.  And the attitude of playing strong and going into each game with the strength you need just brings a whole bunch of energy to the team."
While at Folsom Lake College she recorded eight goals along with adding 10 assists and brings with her the experience, attitude and composure playing in the midfield that coach Wieland is looking for in all his midfielders.
"It's important that when our midfielders get the ball from our defenders or wingbacks going forward, that they have the composure to not just turn and dribble but instead to relax and switch the field," said Wieland.  "The key for them is to quickly move the ball and keep the team's tempo up, while adjusting to anything that comes their way, since things can switch quickly on the soccer field."
With such an important part of the pitch being patrolled by experienced Cajuns, the attitude and composure that coach Wieland is looking for is in the capable hands of solid players who will bring with them a strong presence and hunger to be a factor throughout the 2017 season. 
"It's important to have someone who can take control of the game to keep the momentum going," said Miller.  "I think that because we're older, stronger and more confident in our midfield we will be successful this season."
* * * * * 

Part 2: Defenders 

With the 2017 season upcoming Ragincajuns.com will be doing a positional preview both this and next week.  For this week, the goalkeepers and defenders will be spotlighted.

LAFAYETTE—Defense wins championships.  For Louisiana's women's soccer team its more than just being strong in the back, the defending third is where everything in 2017 will start and the women patrolling that section of the field look ready to take on the challenge of beginning the push for victories.
This summer the Ragin' Cajuns have created an emphasis on aggressive play going forward from their defenders.  The expectations are for the fullbacks to be an option for not only the goalkeeper to distribute the ball, but on creating space in the final third. 
And the center backs will be asked to not only be looking to receive the ball from the goal, but to be ready to send it into the midfield for the offense to really flow towards goal.
"A lot of our system is based on building out of the back," said Louisiana head coach Scot Wieland.  "Which means our women need to stay composed while keeping possession."
Coach Wieland has given this task to at least five women, along with the center midfielder who will be sitting deeper than in previous seasons to help move the ball from sideline to sideline while being yet another option for the keepers to play the ball. 
But they won't be alone out on the pitch as it will be necessary for the entire team to be ready to step up and defend at a top level. 
"Everything we do has to be proactive and not reactive," said Wieland.  "And we must work as one unit, not just one player.  You can't work as one defender it's a defense, and without good communication you're in trouble as a defense."

Returning starters to the back line from last season are sophomores Celine Rumpf and Erika Sierra.  But they aren't alone with having experience for coach Wieland in playing the position with senior Rebecca Foley and sophomore Kaylie Powell having been slotted into the position in the past.
Helping facilitate the defending third and acting as the anchor in the middle will be senior Whitney Taggart, while listed as a midfielder, her position on the field will be a deep defending midfielder which makes her invaluable to the entire scheme of things as she'll be the connect in the middle for the keeper to play the ball into the midfield.
Last season Rumpf started in 15 matches and logged 1,118 minutes of action, while Sierra saw a little bit more action starting in 18 matches tailing 1,528 minutes of play and she even netted the game-winning goal against Troy. 
"Defensively we're basically five in the back.  As compared to last fall where we started with literally just three in the back," said Rumpf.
"Because we weren't very confident in that style we didn't do as well as we had hoped.  So now with that experience we gained last season and in the spring, we're definitely a lot more confident and better at playing what we have now."
"I think we have a lot more trust in this system since we've tried it out for about a year now," said Sierra. 
"We feel confident about who we have back there and how strong they are.  At least in the sense of that if they can't stop the ball from going through at least they'll slow it down so that we have enough time for everyone to get back."

The two experienced women will look to lead their fellow Cajun defenders Powell, who logged 629 minutes last season with five starts, Foley, who herself started five matches as well while recording 377 minutes of action, and newcomer freshman Molly Davis, Davis being no stranger to pressure having played on an undefeated team in high school, through what will be a difficult task for the Cajun defense but one that they're up for.
Connecting the entire defense in the middle is the defensive midfielder, a position tasked to Taggart.
"Our holding defensive midfielder is the anchor," said Wieland.  "She plays up, but she'll be back as well and other then our center backs she is our other option up the middle for the goalkeeper."
"I think it's a good thing that we're looking to play the way we are," said Taggart.  It's going to help us keep possession for sure, since you see a lot of teams on the goal kick just send the ball downfield and it becomes a 50-50 ball. 

"Being the first option or having the center backs get the ball for us, it guarantees possession and then we can start building from there."
Her role will be one of key decision making being there not only for the keeper to play to but also to drop back and cover her teammates as they fall back from the inevitable forward position they'll be asked to run into.
Taggart is no stranger to stepping up where needed, recording three game-winning goals last season while only starting seven matches.  Her three years of experience playing in the Sun Belt Conference should allow her to have an idea of what type of attack the Cajuns will be facing each weekend, and in turn she should be a solid force in the defending midfield position.   
The entire system should be a joy to watch and be a part of, especially for the full backs attacking forward.
"I love getting forward as an outside back and getting into the attack," said Sierra.  "You feel more involved and you feel that you're helping the team a little bit more."
While defense is the key to winning championships, for the Cajuns it's not going to just be about keeping teams from getting clean shots in the 2017 season, but also at the same time they'll be asked to provide scoring opportunities for their forward teammates whenever they can.  A task this group of defenders seems more than ready to tackle.           

Part I Goalkeepers  * * * * *

With the 2017 season upcoming Ragincajuns.com will be doing a positional preview both this and next week.  For this week, the goalkeepers and defenders will be spotlighted.

LAFAYETTE—Competition breeds competence.  Between the pipes of the Louisiana women's soccer team goal this season competition is exactly what is facing the three women working to call themselves the 2017 Ragin' Cajun goalkeeper.
"What we're looking for is of course the ability to make the saves and second for our goalkeepers to make proper decisions," said head coach Scot Wieland.  "But this system demands a goalkeeper who can build out of the back.  Our number one and two goalkeepers will be the ones who can best do that for us going forward.
"They've got to be that backline defender that can receive and distribute. That's going to be key to that position this year and this system demands that they can build."
The previous two seasons coach Wieland named Cosette Morche the starting keeper, but during the offseason she transferred out, heading to the Big 12 and Texas A&M, and it left only one experienced keeper on the Cajun roster.
That keeper is sophomore Mackenzie Lee and she's ready to jump on the opportunity to take the open slot and call herself the starting keeper.
"Competition defiantly makes a difference," said Lee.  "Having that competition puts an extra edge on things for us and it just really helps you to push yourself since you can't just settle.  Being here all spring allowed me to adjust to playing with my feet more but with the added competition during the pre-season it's helped me gain even more experience.  When there's people around you that are working hard if you want to have that spot you've got to keep going and match that hard work and intensity."
She isn't new to the lineup having started four matches during her freshman season, recording 315 minutes of action while tallying 15 saves.  She even snagged seven saves against Nicholls, which was her season and career high.
But Lee isn't alone in her aspirations of being named the starter, as coach Wieland went out and added two more women to the mix. 
Sophomore Victoria Mendes, who hails from Sau Paulo, Brazil, spent her freshman season at Southern, in Baton Rouge, and gained valuable experience during the season.  She started 14 games for the Jaguars and logged 1,190 minutes while putting together 83 saves. 
"For me I'm living out the dreams I've had since I was 14," said Mendes.  "And I think that the fact that I played on a different college team isn't what matters all too much.  What I've done here and what I'll do here is what really matters.  I'm going to work hard to do my job and at the end of the day I'll always work hard for the team."
Her previous season, while it was in a different conference, is something she can always go back on while competing for the job here at Louisiana.
Coach Wieland added one more woman to the mix during the off-season, when he signed freshman goalkeeper Victoria Ryan, who comes to Louisiana from Santa Clarita, Califorina, and she brings her own experience playing in postseason affairs.
"I've always been comfortable playing with my feet," said Ryan.  "Since by chance pretty much every team I've played for in the past the coaches required that I have the ability to play out of the back.  But here at Louisiana we're all great keepers and we're all here for a reason.  The competition between us is very important and when you have that friendly rivalry like we do it makes you push yourself even harder to do and be the best that you can."
During her junior year, as the starting keeper, she took her team to the league semifinals, and she made sure to return to the postseason in her senior year helping lead her team to the quarterfinals.  Through those games, she racked up quality pressure minutes which should only help her when facing Sun Belt Conference competition. 
While the Cajuns did lose their two-year starter to transfer in the off-season, the cupboard is by no means bare.  Cooperation begins where competition leaves off.  And with the three women being hardened by competition the Cajuns can rest easy knowing that their goal is safely secured.