UC Women's Soccer Ready to Prove Naysayers Wrong
Sophomore Kristina Utley earned the starting goalkeeper job for the 2012 opener.

Aug. 15, 2012

By Jeff Geiser

The 2011 University of Cincinnati women’s soccer season ended with mixed results for the Bearcats. For the majority of the year, UC lost matches or played to a draw despite outplaying opponents. Cincinnati outshot its counterparts 282-257 and took 114 corner kicks, compared to 58. However, the inability to put the ball in the net led to a 6-9-4 record, including a 2-7-2 mark in BIG EAST Conference play.

With the taste of disappointment fresh in the mind of the program, UC head coach Michelle Salmon issued a new challenge for her squad as it prepared for the 2012 season, “Rise Up.”

“People ask me all that time, ‘What does Rise Up mean?’ They see it all over everything,” said Salmon. “It just means that in every situation you’re in, rise up and be the best person you can possibly be. If you’re in fitness and running, it’s about rising up and being number one. And if you’re not number one, then you need to step up and be number one.”

UC posted 1-1 draws in both of its preseason matches against Kent State and Illinois, the 2011 Big Ten Conference champion. The Bearcats combined to outshoot KSU and UI 24-23, an indication they can continue to hold possession for most matches in 2012.

Cincinnati used 17 players in the exhibition finale against the Fighting Illini. Salmon said she plans on using 19-20 players each match throughout the season in order to keep her starters fresh and to maintain a high energy level, especially once the Bearcats enter the gauntlet of BIG EAST play.

“Our starting lineup knows that it can’t be complacent because there are players on the bench who are going to rise up and challenge for starting jobs,” Salmon added. “That’s our mentality. Coming out of preseason, the identity of this team has been found and is now coming together. It’s really simple; it’s about rising up, it’s about competing, it’s about challenging and it’s about winning.”

Entering her fifth season with the Bearcats, Salmon’s entire roster is comprised of players she’s scouted and recruited. The squad will be lean on varsity letters, as 17 of the 27 players are underclassmen, but after five freshmen started at least 12 matches in 2011, the club is not short of experience.

“Experience is about playing and we have players that have played,” said Salmon. “Even the freshmen who’ve played, you look at Laura Rose and she’s been at national camps. She has experience. This is not her first rodeo. She’ll be fine and is adjusting just great. Callie Taylor is a world-class athlete. I could care less about experience. For us it’s about winning; it doesn’t matter what class you’re in. I have seniors who’ve played in eight games in their entire career. It doesn’t make them more experienced than Mackenzie Grause, who has 19.”

Salmon’s primary concern heading into preseason camp was the development of the defensive, which lost the services of defensive stalwarts Erin Kaufmann and Kelli Pawelko to graduation. Those questions were answered, as UC displayed a consistent defensive effort in its two preseason matches.

“The biggest thing that I saw out of training camp was that I love how we defend,” said Salmon. “We defend with heart and passion. I love our mentality; how we fight and compete. We don’t care about who we’re playing, we just want to get better.”

When the preseason BIG EAST Coaches Poll was released Aug. 7, predicting the Bearcats to finish eighth out of the eight-team American Division, Salmon took the news in stride.

“We’ve been talking about rising up and exceeding expectations. Well, I don’t think that’s going to be hard to do from where our peers view us in the BIG EAST, just be to frank,” stated Salmon. “And we’ll address that when we get ready for BIG EAST play. We really don’t care where people view us. We know who we are and we know what our expectations are. We’ve set that and we’re standing firm. We’re not interested in how others view us. We don’t care if we get ranked; it’s not in the goal setting. Some teams sit down and say, ‘We want to be a top 20 team.’ We don’t care about any of that. Our focus is on winning games and taking care of us. That’s all we’re focusing on.

“The expectation for our season is to win. Our players realize it’s going to take every soul on this team to do that. No position will be safe, and that’s a good position to be in. The starting lineup is not going to be set because we are pretty talented all the way through.”

Cincinnati opens the 2012 season 7 p.m. Friday at Elon University in North Carolina.

The following is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2012 UC women’s soccer roster.

Goalkeepers (3): Kristina Utley (So.), Natalie Smith (Fr.), Ashley Daniels (Sr.)

Sophomore Kristina Utley solidified herself as the starter with her improved communication, experience and work ethic. As a freshman, Utley started all 19 matches for the Bearcats in 2011 and finished second in the BIG EAST with 91 total saves. While senior Ashley Daniels missed most of training camp after undergoing an ankle procedure, freshman Natalie Smith emerged as the No. 2 keeper.

Defenders (7): Jae Atkinson (So.), Christi Howard (So.), Kate Schmidt (Jr.), Kaylee Dakers (Sr.), Kelly Latimer (Fr.), Mollie Williams (So.), Sally Beiting (Fr.)

There are five players fighting for four starting spots. Senior Kaylee Dakers and freshman Kelly Latimer are vying for the starting right outside back spot. Regardless of who starts, both are expected to see significant minutes in each contest.

Junior Kate Schmidt returns to the backline after beginning training camp at midfield. It was deemed the co-captain, who started all 19 matches on the backline in 2011, was best suited for defender with her organization abilities.

After starting all 19 matches at midfield in ’11, sophomore Christi Howard was moved to the backline. Her athleticism and ability in the air have made for a smooth transition.

Sophomore Jae Atkinson is slated to man the left outside back position. She started 12 matches last year, but injuries slowed her toward the end of the season. Salmon has stated that Atkinson has emerged as a leader in the backline and has bought into defending well as her top priority, followed by distributing with touch.

“We can really posses the ball with these guys back there,” Salmon said, referring to the skill set her defenders posses. “All five players will average nearly 60 minutes per match in order to keep them fresh.”

Midfield (9): Katie Greer (Jr.), Megan Cravenor (So.), Kayla Karlsson (Fr.), Alexa Fiehrer (So.), Emily Elsbrock (Jr.), Liz Miller (Sr.), Sydney Tomlinson (Fr.), Ambri Johnson (Fr.), Natalie Domanic (Jr.)

The starters in the midfield for the preseason match versus Illinois were junior Katie Greer, sophomore Megan Cravenor and freshman Kayla Karlsson. Cravenor, one of four freshmen to start every match last season, will man the center-mid position. Greer has stepped up during camp and should see significant minutes. Karlsson was moved to midfield from the backline.

Providing valuable depth at midfield will be senior Liz Miller and sophomore Alexa Fiehrer, who saw expanded minutes in the preseason.

Junior Emily Elsbrock, who scored Cincinnati’s lone goal against Illinois, freshman Sydney Tomlinson, who was nicked up during preseason, can swing between midfield and forward.

Forwards (8): Laura Rose (Fr.), Mackenzie Grause (So.), Jazmine Rhodes (Jr.), Lauren Hettinger (Jr.), Evi Ranson (Sr.), Callie Taylor (Fr.), Chris Reed (So.), Amber Seaman (Fr.)

UC’s returns its top two scorers from last year in sophomore Mackenzie Grause (6 goals, 3 assists) and junior Jazmine Rhodes (5 goals, 1 assist). Salmon said those two played too many minutes in 2011 and were not as fresh as they need to be down the stretch. Freshman Laura Rose got the start in both preseason matches and is expected to play a significant role.

Also battling for minutes at forward are junior Lauren Hettinger, who assisted on Elsbrock’s goal against Illinois, senior Evi Ranson and freshman Callie Taylor. Hettinger and Taylor could also see time at midfield.