SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University women's soccer team and Head Coach Kwame Lloyd are anticipating remarkable things as they get set to begin their 2017 campaign this weekend. Seven seniors – including six starters – are back this season, and it will be their growth and veteran leadership that will give this squad a real chance to make an impact in conference and postseason play.
"We've been a lot more productive in preseason. We're scoring goals. You see it. The chemistry is there more now than in the past," Lloyd said.
Lloyd begins his fifth season as head coach and believes there's a new side to the way the team plays that should help them build on a 5-8-4 record, including a 4-4-1 mark in Capital Athletic Conference play, from a year ago. Their mental approach to the game has made strides and should prove as a complement to the players' physical abilities.
"These players are mentally strong. They don't panic," Lloyd said. "In both the scrimmage and the alumni game we went down one and then we came back to win both games. They don't look at each other. They don't point fingers."
There has not been a significant changeover offensively from last season. The leaders at the front line have played together for two years and it will be that improvement in chemistry that should propel the team forward this year. Another positive that Lloyd sees with this group is their versatility.
"Different players have the ability to play a number of distinct roles," he said. "You can't pinhole how we're going to play through the front line."
The spotlight will be shining bright on one of those players this year. Ruthie Lucas will look to continue to make strides and build upon a successful junior campaign that saw her earn first-team All-CAC honors after leading the team with 15 points on six goals and three assists.
"Ruthie is the star of that group," Lloyd said. "Not only because of her ability, but because of her experience."
Other players who are expected to help Lucas lead the forward group this season are senior Ellen Anderson, sophomore Julianna Boller and junior Katie Bean. Anderson, who began her playing career at Salisbury University as a goalkeeper, is now a senior and has made a smooth transition to forward.
"Ellen has had a really good preseason this year. We expect to see her at target forward," Lloyd said.
Boller made a substantial impact at the position as a freshman and the coaches expect wonderful things from her this fall.
As for Bean, she is relatively new to the program. She transferred in this year as a junior and is expected to offer veteran leadership to the younger players while providing some energy up front.
The midfield unit is likely the one that will offer the most depth and versatility this season. According to Lloyd, players like senior Jamie Tacka, sophomores Emma Faust and, Dana Gordon have all had great preseasons.
"Jamie Tacka anchors the position and I think is one of the best players on the team and in the conference," Lloyd said.
Another transfer, sophomore Kiera Young, has already begun to make an impact on the team and a big impression on her coach.
"I think she's the future," Lloyd said. "You need that kid who will run through a wall for you and come out of it with finesse at the same time. You need that grit kid and she brings that grit for us."
The final piece to the puzzle in the middle of the field could be junior Jenna Taylor, who has taken over as the standout star and leader of the unit.
"Jenna is our leader there. She's doing a wonderful job with her attacking style and the ball at her feet. She can score on you and set up her teammates. She makes the people around her better," Lloyd said.
The defensive unit lost some talent and senior leadership from 2016 and may be the youngest group on the field this year, but that doesn't mean Lloyd expects any less from the talent he knows he has there.
Anderson, who was awarded CAC Defensive Player of the Week honors in 2016, should continue her dominant play for her team, anchoring the back line, Lloyd said.
Wright, who missed her entire freshman season recovering from a knee injury, is excited to finally get on the field and help her teammates lock down opposing forwards, while Caceres has been a pleasant surprise for the coaching staff.
"Lilianna is probably the biggest surprise of the sophomore class. She's coming in very fit, showing some grit, very savvy on the ball, and showing composure," Lloyd said.
Senior Hope Knussman will pick up where she left off with impressive play in 2016 that saw her finish third in the CAC with 70 saves. Her teammates and coaches have a lot of confidence in her as the last line of defense.
"Honestly, I think Hope is one of the best goalkeepers in the conference. She has the potential to be an all-region type of player. She's a tremendous captain and a great leader," Lloyd said.
Freshman newcomer Emma Hill will have the opportunity to learn a lot about playing in net at the collegiate level as she prepares to take the reins in a year.
"Emma is pushing Hope very hard," Lloyd said. "The things we need our goalkeepers to do is to challenge each other."
The Sea Gulls have a challenging schedule this season both inside and outside of conference play. The season kicks off this weekend against two respected programs in Shenandoah University and William Smith College.
Other notable games outside of conference play this season are next weekend against both Lynchburg and Roanoke College when the Sea Gulls travel to Lynchburg, Virginia to participate in the annual Shellenberger Classic.
Lloyd believes there are several teams in the CAC that will prove to be great challenges. Most notably will be games at St. Mary's College of Maryland on October 4, at Frostburg State University on October 21, and at home against Christopher Newport University on October 18.
The regular season is set to wrap up at Wesley College on October 25, with CAC tournament play scheduled to begin on October 28.