Boasting 11 upperclassmen and bringing in a highly touted recruiting class, the 2009 Vanderbilt soccer team appears poised for a breakout year.
The Commodores got off to a fast start in 2008, winning their first five games. However, they went 3-7-1 in Southeastern Conference play to just miss out on the conference tournament, with five of those losses coming by just one goal. Vanderbilt finished with an overall record of 9-8-2, the team's third winning season in the last four years, but short of the postseason and the goals the program has under head coach Ronnie Woodard.
Woodard believes this group has the desire and skill to turn things around. The team trained with such intensity during the spring that she remarked that they were the hardest-working group of Vanderbilt soccer players she's had in her tenure in Nashville.
"What I saw was a really great commitment from our team this spring to their individual game, which in turn is going to bring us together as a better team," Woodard said. "All of our hard work that we've put in the weight room, all of our hard work that we've put in on the soccer field, and all of our hard work that we've put in during games has got to come together and get a result, and this is the year we believe we will do that."
Star juniors, and twin sisters, Molly and Megan Kinsella return after leading Vanderbilt's offensive attack last season. Molly, a midfielder was named first-team All-SEC after an outstanding sophomore year and led the team in scoring for the second straight season, scoring eight goals and adding four assists, including a hat trick against Mississippi State. She led the conference in shots and shots on goal, and her six goals in league play were good for third in the SEC.
Even after a stellar sophomore season, the staff expects Molly to be even more dominant in 2009.
"We expect her to really have a coming-out year," Woodard said. "I think she's had two very good years, but I think her improvement over the spring season is going to propel her into a very powerful player in the SEC."
Megan was second on the team last year with four goals and three assists, both career highs. Like her sister, she started all 19 games last season.
"Megan made a great turn last year. I think she established herself as a dangerous attacking player that had tremendous speed and agility," Woodard said. "She's improved her individual game, made herself less predictable as a wide player and provided a spark for us throughout the spring."
Midfielder Megan Forester played in 17 games with nine starts last season, and had one goal and one assist. As Vanderbilt's lone senior, she will be looked to for leadership.
"I fully expect Megan to be a great leader for us and to be an impact player," Woodard said.
Redshirt junior Nicole Lukens, a forward, started all 19 games in 2008 and scored three goals. She also added one assist, and Woodard expects her to be an indispensable part of the offense in 2009.
"I think Nicole is one of the most courageous players that we have on our team," Woodard said. "The types of runs that she makes are beneficial to the success of scoring goals on our team. She has an incredible work rate, and I think that she has a fearlessness to her that allows her to create opportunities for us as a team."
Junior Megan Eddings was one of six Vanderbilt players to start all 19 games last season. Her coach describes her as a feisty player on the field and she should again be a mainstay of the defense.
Sophomore Candace West was named to the All-SEC Freshman team in 2008 after posting 10 starts and playing in 17 games, finishing third on the team with nine points on three goals and three assists. A forward last season, West made a transition during the spring to midfielder and has made her game even more dynamic.
Redshirt sophomore Mary Rachel (M.R.) Reynolds returns after sitting out last season with a medical redshirt. She was named to the SEC All-Freshman team on defense in 2007 and expects to not just regain but surpass the form she's already demonstrated.
"We certainly welcome M.R. back," Woodard said. "I saw a tremendous improvement in her confidence this spring, and I think the return of M.R. to our backline is really going to provide a more solid foundation for us."
Redshirt freshman Kate Goldin is coming off back-to-back knee surgeries but trained hard during the spring. Blessed with great speed, she will provide added support for an already deep backfield.
Junior goalkeeper Rachel Bachtel returns after posting five shutouts last season to give her nine in her career. With two full seasons under her belt, her confidence has grown drastically and Vanderbilt coaches fully expect a well-defended net in 2009.
"In order for Vanderbilt soccer to be successful, we have to have a great goalkeeper," Woodard said. "We've invested a lot of time and energy and confidence in Rachel, and we expect her to step up this year. She possesses all the tools. She's got a great athletic build, she's a great shot stopper and she is a hard worker."
Sophomore Elizabeth Lillie saw action in every game last season as a reserve in the backfield. She scored one goal and added one assist.
Junior Hannah Gonzales made 15 starts and played in every game in a transitional season for her, as she moved from playing forward to outside back. She tied for second on the team with three assists.
Sophomore Emily Grant played in all but two games last year as a reserve midfielder and had three assists.
Junior Kristine Chaklos started all 19 games as an outside back last season and demonstrated strong technique and athleticism.
Redshirt sophomore Catherine Wearn returned from injury and scored a goal in her first Vanderbilt match, the game-winner against Belmont in the 2008 season opener. She carded five starts on the season, with 13 total appearances.
Sophomore Bridget Lohmuller also saw action in 10 games in the backfield and had an assist.
Junior Katie Dean registered nine starts and 18 total appearances in 2008 and looks to compete for even more playing time this year.
One of the most heralded recruits in school history, Chelsea Stewart headlines the incoming seven-member freshman class. Stewart, a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, played for Canada in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and also was on the U-20 National Team prior to playing for the Commodores. Although mainly a midfielder, she could also be used at forward to take advantage of her unique scoring skills.
"I think Chelsea is going to provide us with a nice spark of energy," Woodard said. "She is going to bring some international experience to our group, she's going to bring some competitive spirit to our group, and I think she's just going to overall improve our game."
C.J. Rhoades, from Danville, Ind. should expect to see significant action at center midfielder this season with the graduation of Katie Schulz. Also competing for time at center midfielder will be local resident Dana Schwartz, a native of Nashville, Tenn.
Jessica Amlaw, a native of Tarpon Springs, Fla., gives the team added athletic depth and will spell Bachtel at goalkeeper
Margaux Andrews from Cincinnati, Ohio is a proven scorer and her high school's all-time assists leader, and will challenge for time at left midfielder.
Madeline Danna comes from Sugar Land, Tex. and should compete for time at forward.
Amanda Essay, a native of Kingwood, Tex. comes in with an impressive resume and looks to be an impact player in the backfield.
The Commodores have a 19-game schedule in 2009, with eight matches coming against teams that made last year's NCAA Tournament, six of them from the SEC.
After seeing a drastic improvement in their record in 2008, the Commodores appear to have all the necessary components of talent, athleticism and commitment to return to the NCAA Tournament in 2009.
"I believe this team can do it," Woodard said. "I think they've got enough talent, I think they've got enough grit, and I think they've got enough dedication and a sense of pride in wearing a Vanderbilt jersey that they can make that turn."