Nov. 6, 2009
By Mark Schmetzer
The University of Cincinnati women's soccer team seemed ready to roll in 2009 after going 10-7-3 and earning the program's first Big East Tournament berth in Michelle Salmon's first season as coach.
Salmon knew better. Even though seven starters and 14 letterwinners were returning from that turn-the-corner 2008 team, the first to finish over .500 since 2002, Salmon still was concerned about what the team had lost with the departure of seven seniors.
So she wasn't that surprised - or even disappointed - about the 8-10-1 record with which the 2009 team finished its season. The Bearcats wrapped Oct. 25 with a 4-0 win over Seton Hall, ending a rough second half of the season in which they had lost five consecutive matches and gone 1-7-1 prior to their win over the Pirates.
"I think it's a different season," Salmon said. "The way we're looking at things is we're taking more of a developmental approach. We started two or three freshmen most of the year and three or four sophomores. Definitely, when you look at last year, we had a lot more seniors and seniors who played.
"I think we surprised a lot of people last year. This year, we had a little different makeup. If you put a younger team on the field, it can pay dividends in the future."
Even though UC dropped back under .500, Salmon believes the Bearcats made progress toward the long-range goal of putting together a program that competes consistently for Big East championships. She bases her optimism on the experience gained by those younger players, led by third-year sophomore Emily Hebbeler.
The 5-foot-5 forward from Notre Dame Academy - just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati - played in all 19 games, starting 13, and led UC in scoring with 14 points, including six goals. She tied for the team lead in goals with junior forward Kendall Loggins, who finished with 13 points.
Salmon was especially buoyant about the experience gained by her younger defenders, some after junior Logan Ballinger was lost to a season-ending injury during a 4-0 loss at South Carolina on Sept. 6.
Freshman Brook Eberly, another local product from Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, missed just one match and made 17 starts. Sophomore Kelli Pawelko played in every game and started 18, and classmate Lauren Lucas played in 18 games and started 14.
"We'll have the whole back line coming back next year," Salmon said. "We thought going into the season that they were two years away. Now, they're a year closer to being ready. We've got some really powerful players coming back with a lot more experience that they wouldn't have gained at another university."
That will come in handy as Salmon breaks in a new goalkeeper to replace senior Andrea Kaminski, who finished her career with 16 saves and a school-record 401 saves.
UC also loses valuable experience with the departure of seniors such as midfielder Melissa Bigg, who started all 19 games led the Bearcats with six assists, forwards Eric MacDonald and Brittney Hansen and defender Heather Neiser.
Cincinnati went 3-7-1 in the conference this season, and six of the losses were by one goal, the last two in overtime - 2-1 against South Florida and 1-0 against Rutgers. The Bearcats also lost 2-1 to Notre Dame and 1-0 at DePaul and escaped from Syracuse with a 2-2 tie before logging their biggest win of the season, 1-0 at then 12th-ranked St. John's on Oct. 4. Kaminski made eight saves and freshman forward Evi Ranson scored the game's only goal.
"I think we showed that we can compete with the Notre Dames and the Rutgers," Salmon said. "Now, we have to get to the level where they don't just compete, but they win. I thought the younger players handled adversity well. Now, the question is, can they rise up? It's one thing to endure. It's another to step up."
From Salmon's point of view, the program remains on track toward what should be the long-term goal.
"Just looking at records doesn't tell the whole story," she said. "When you're making a transition in a program, you have to take a longer approach than just one season. It's a process. You're not going to fix everything at one time. You only get one opportunity to build a program, and you want to do it right."