The Collegian
Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Women's soccer season is strong foundation for next year

Women's soccer players and coaches described this season as a series of ups-and-downs.

"It stinks that toward the end it was more downs," senior back Sarah Hilt said of the season, which began with a 9-2-1 start, the strongest in school history. The winning trend ended before the post-season after a series of conference losses, "but it was still a fun journey," Hilt said.

The Spiders' early season successes included wins over rivals James Madison University and Virginia Commonwealth University, games Hilt, senior midfielder Jessie Wolfe and senior Julia Bizer, a midfielder and forward, listed as some of their best memories of the season.

Coach Peter Albright also pointed to the win over JMU, a ranked team entering the game, as an important boost.

"The JMU game gave us confidence and a belief in our playing system and our players," Albright said.

The team's strong start was marred by a series of career- and season-ending injuries which Albright said had shaken the team's confidence entering conference games at Duquesne University and St. Bonaventure University.

"We were missing key players due to injury," Albright said of the games, which the Spiders lost 3-1 and 2-1, respectively, "but we also just didn't play well. We understood that they were important games, but we didn't play like they were important.

"What our team learned this year is that we need to be mentally tougher in overcoming adversities and overcoming injuries. I think the team and the staff could have handled it better."

The Duquesne and St. Bonaventure games were followed by conference losses to Charlotte and St. Louis, which ended the Spiders' chance for post-season play.

"We had such a good team," Albright said, "but we weren't able to sustain it through the conference. We had the opportunity to have a great season, but there's a difference between a great team and a great season."

Despite what Albright described as a frustrating and disappointing end of the season, both he and the players said there were also a lot of high points.

"On the positive side," Albright said, "we had a great home record. We had a fantastic freshmen class and we will return a strong team. This season has been a real step forward, a real step up."

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Hilt also pointed to the freshmen players, who got a lot of playing time because of the number of injuries, both as an important part of this year's team and the foundation for a strong future.

"They had raw talent," she said, "but now they have the experience, too."

Albright said the freshmen had had a definite impact, but that senior leadership had also been important. Bizer, Hilt and Wolfe were the team's only senior players on the field after injuries sidelined Susan Boyer, Melanie Varga and Ashleigh Blumer.

"They're great players, great kids," Albright said of the seniors. "If we could have had six seniors on the field it would have been amazing."

Wolfe was named to the Atlantic-10 Conference team on Nov. 6, and Hilt garnered an all-conference honorable mention.

"Sarah is one of the best left-side players I've ever coached," Albright said of Hilt. "And Jessie [Wolfe] is just super-special. I think she has a chance to play professionally. She's a great kid, a great teammate and a very strong, wonderful player."

Bizer said the team had also been pleased to have won its final game at First Market Stadium, which will be replaced by a new on-campus stadium. The Spiders defeated George Washington University during the Oct. 24 game.

The players also said they saw fan support as a positive element of the season, especially at the home opener against JMU, when other student-athletes created a tunnel through which the team entered the field. Bizer said attendance at that game had been higher than at any game she had ever played in.

Wolfe said: "It was a great booster. I think it was one of the reasons we won that night. We were so pumped."

Off the field, Bizer, Hilt and Wolfe all said they were pleased at how well the team had bonded. The players spent time hanging out at teammates' apartments and eating at Red Robin.

"The whole vibe was different than it's been in the past," Wolfe said. "The freshmen played a big role. We bonded with the whole team. There was no segregation."

Albright said this season had left the team, which had already started practicing again, in a strong position for the future.

"We're in a position to get better," he said, "and that's the legacy of the seniors.

"There's a lot of positive energy about the future. A lot of us would like to get out there and play right now."

The senior players said they were confident in the team they were leaving behind.

"They know what they can do because of this season," Bizer said of next year's team. "The vision we had after the first two games was awesome, and next year they can complete it. They don't even know how hard they can push themselves yet -- they can be amazing."

Contact staff writer Emily Baltz at emily.baltz@richmond.edu

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