JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Dec. 10, 2009) - In a season that had its ups and downs, one word better than any other described the 2009 ETSU women's soccer team and that word was character.
"Despite injuries, tough losses and the hardest schedule that our program has ever faced, I thought each and every player on our team never gave up," said head coach Heather Henson. "Every day in practice these ladies came to work and regardless of what the situation was, every girl battled through the adversity we faced throughout the fall."
The Bucs knew coming into the season that they would face a schedule that included five 2008 NCAA Tournament participants in Tennessee, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Charlotte and Radford.
"When we put this schedule together I knew that our girls would be facing some of the best teams around," said Henson. "If you look at the results against these squads, our team was in almost every match throughout most of the second half. We ended up letting up a couple of goals late, but these contests gave our players the experience and toughness we needed as we headed into conference play. We knew some of the SEC teams had a lot of speed, talent and depth, but despite that, the thing I'm most proud of is how we played our style of soccer against them."
One non-conference highlight that stood out for ETSU was its dramatic 2-1 win over defending BigSouth champion Radford. Back on September 9th the Bucs showed their toughness after the Highlanders tied the match at 1-1 with less than four minutes remaining in regulation. After the ensuing kickoff, ETSU immediately moved down the pitch where sophomore midfielder Genna Petersen (Loveland, Ohio), took a long pass down the right side. The second year starter then crossed an outstanding pass over to junior forward Terri Miller (Cape Coral, Fla.), who fired home the game winner with two minutes to play.
"The Radford match was one that really showed the spirit of this team," Henson said. "Here's a program in Radford that has had success in their conference and really does a great job every year defending its home field. After we gave up the late goal that evened the score our girls could have got down and quit. Instead they were determined to find a way to get the job done and that's what they did."
As they entered conference play ETSU picked up wins over league-winner Kennesaw State, Lipscomb, North Florida and USC Upstate. Unfortunately for the Bucs -- who had a chance to clinch a spot in the postseason tournament with a win the last regular season weekend - ETSU finished two points behind Campbell for sixth.
"This conference season had its highs and lows," said Henson. "We gave ourselves a chance at the end and the bottom line is that we didn't get it done with a win. I knew the last weekend of the season was going to be difficult against (Florida) Gulf Coast and Stetson. However, on a positive note our girls showed a lot of toughness in the win against Kennesaw, after a heartbreaking loss to Mercer in double overtime. The way our conference works with the points system, teams can't just settle for a tie. Every match our players went out to win and unluckily we came up one match short that last weekend."
Individually, ETSU had a number of great performances throughout the season. Players like junior midfielder Alex Meehan (Knoxville, Tenn.), and sophomore defender Jessica Hiltenbrand (Bartlett, Tenn.), stepped in due to injuries and excelled at their respected positions.
"Like any season you have some injuries, but unfortunately this past fall two of our potential starters (Rachel Van Horn and Jennifer Altimier) went down early. Players like Alex and Jessica gave us a boost throughout the remainder of the season. When you have to change gameplans and scouting reports because you're missing some key pieces the biggest thing a team needs is steadiness. I think as a whole we had other girls step up like Genna Petersen, who brought consistency to their positions. All these factors helped us raised our level of play every time adversity happen to an individual player."
Another outstanding Buc this past season was sophomore goalkeeper Megan Masch (Virginia Beach, Va.). Masch finished the season as the top keeper in the A-Sun in saves (125), while rounding out the year third among league keepers with a .801 save percentage.
"I can truly say there wasn't one match I can remember when Masch didn't make a key save for our team," Henson said. "Whether it was diving for a ball at the upper 90 or keeping us in a match with a stop in a one-on-one situation, Megan was one of the biggest reasons we were able to stay in close contests. Along with Gaughan (sophomore Caitlin Gaughan, Indianapolis, Ind.), each of our keepers pushed each other hard throughout training. This helped Masch raise her game to another level as the season started."
In addition to some outstanding performances from some of the younger players, ETSU closed the careers of three outstanding seniors this past fall. Kim Jones (Springfield, Va.), Kia Kindell (Westchester, Ohio), and Jordan Monty (Mesquite, Texas), - who was named as a member of the A-Sun First-Team - wrapped up their outstanding playing careers for the Bucs.
"Looking back at this senior class, you realize how special each of these young ladies was both on and off the field," said Henson. "Kim leaves here as the all-time record holder in matches started and Kia and Jordan both are in the top-five in total minutes played and career starts. The thing that stands out to me the most about these ladies is how they they continued to develop this program on a day-to-day basis. Each practice, training session and game they came to the field ready to work. There was never a time when I worried about if each of them was going to improve their skills as players or leaders. I know I speak for my entire staff in saying that each of them will be truly missed."
Despite the loss of a senior class that led ETSU to three A-Sun Tournaments and multiple records the Bucs future is bright with raising players like freshmen Morgan Thomas (Maryville, Tenn.) and Tori Head (Kingsport, Tenn.).
"I thought both Morgan and Tori came in ready to play," said Henson. "Morgan is a player that we switched from up top in our offense to one of our backline defenders midway through the season. One thing I thought helped was her ability to learn quickly. She's a versatile player that was a great addition to our defense. Throughout the year Morgan established herself as a solid player that could be counted on to do her job when she was in the game. Tori on the other hand was player that really just played hard every time she took the field. She was able to be that scrappy fighter that we needed to have in our offense. Her great speed gave us a spark at times and I look for great things form both ladies in the future."
Even though the Bucs finished one game outside the A-Sun Tournament this season the Bucs have already been taking steps to improve this last month and half.
"As a coaching staff and team we hated that we fell short of the conference tournament," said Henson. "That being said, our players have been motivated for 2010 ever since our last match ended. Their offseason conditioning and training has gone well. I think as a coaching staff we are working on making the adjustments we need to be successful as we head into the spring season and next fall. I know our entire program is determined to be successful right from the start and that has been seen in how hard the girls are working in their workouts."
For more information on the ETSU women's soccer team, please visit www.ETSUBucs.com. Also you can follow daily post and updates on the official ETSU women's soccer Twitter page at www.twitter.com/ETSUSoccer.