SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University women's soccer team and Head Coach Kwame Lloyd are set to begin their 2018 campaign this weekend and will look to build upon the success of last season which saw the Sea Gulls make a run to the conference semifinals. The team is faced with the challenge of moving on from a talented senior class from 2017, but Lloyd believes his team will only become better because of it.
"When you look at our team now," Lloyd said, "you see a team that has bonded and become more of a committee. It's no longer 'Hey, focus on this one player or this other player'. We have players from top to bottom who want the ball. From top to bottom we are a bit more athletic than the teams we've had in the past."
Lloyd points out a great example that highlights the depth on the current roster.
"If you look at our first scrimmage," Lloyd said, "we had five or six different players score a goal. The attempts on net are coming from different ways, different areas of the field."
Lloyd used the term "team defend" to describe how opponents will not be able to have just one or two top players defend one or two big scoring threats.
The Sea Gulls' forward unit will be faced with the tall task of trying to fill the hole left by last year's senior standout scorer Ruthie Lucas, who led the team in scoring each of the past two seasons, while also earning first team all-conference honors twice.
"You don't just replace a talent like Ruthie," Lloyd said. "She's the type of talent that enabled us to be in big games. But at the same time, we can begin to move away from being as one-dimensional now."
Lloyd now sees an opportunity with a forward unit comprised of several talented playmakers and goal scorers. They include juniors Lydia Narum, Julianna Boller, Megan Brady, Julie Venere and sophomore Brooke Rossiter.
With the addition of Madison Hogsten, who had to sit out her freshman year with an injury, there is talent and depth in the forward line.
"Both Lydia and Brooke have stepped up their game from last season," Lloyd said. "They both had a really good spring, especially their time in Germany. It was good to see them play off one another.
"Julianna and Megan are two others we expect to see step up with more playing time now. Megan is back to being healthy and we see her doing a lot of creative things on the ball."
Lloyd sees his midfield as the unit with the least amount of change from last season with most of his players returning and continuing to grow in those same roles.
While the midfield unit will feature plenty of veteran talent, Lloyd also noted that there are a few freshmen that could make their presence known in 2018.
"We have great additions in our freshman class with players such as Ally Goetz, Kara Schmidt and Maddie Carr, who all bring a flare to the game," Lloyd said. "There's a good nucleus of talented players that will allow us play with creativity and athleticism."
Much like the forwards, the defensive unit will look to move forward following the departures of two talented seniors from last year's team in Jamie Tacka and Rachel Anderson. But much in the same way as he sees the positives in the forward unit, Lloyd believes his diverse defense has the talent and depth to mirror the success of a 2017 squad that earned six-straight wins by shutout to open conference play.
"We have a good nucleus of players on the defensive end as well who understand how we want to play," Lloyd said. "Rachel did a great job of grooming Kayla Homeyer to step into the starting center back role."
Homeyer already showcased her level of talent last season when she earned second team all-conference honors as a freshman.
Lloyd also pointed out how the defense has been forced to overcome several injuries the last couple of seasons that have left the Sea Gulls thinner at the position than he would have liked but is happy to see those ailments through the rearview.
"Jenna Beck is one of the better players in the conference when healthy," Lloyd said. "We want to make sure she stays there. The last couple of years we've lost her early in the season."
"Ryan came in a stepped up in the playoffs for us last year and she's now able to play without her brace," Lloyd said. "She's feeling really good a year and a half after her knee surgery."
While Lloyd prefers not to officially say who his starting goalkeeper will be to start 2018, he made it clear that he's very happy the progress and preparation he has seen in sophomore Emma Hill and freshman Regan Benton.
"I'm very proud of Emma and the approach she brings to the position," Lloyd said. "She took on a bigger role this spring. Our trip to Germany did a lot for her. She was put into the spotlight and since then has found different ways to lead.
"We brought in Regan and she's learning a lot. Her training mentality is great and she's doing a tremendous job at adjusting to the college game so far."
Lloyd added by saying that his two goalkeepers are doing a wonderful job of pushing each other to play at their best every day.
When looking at the 2018 schedule, Lloyd doesn't see any games he's willing to look past and believes each contest will prove as important as the next.
"We never want to look past anyone," Lloyd said. "We always try and bring in some big fish for our tournament to start the year. This year it's Wheaton College, Illinois, The University of St. Thomas from Minnesota, and Salem College, North Carolina. All three have very successful programs."
Lloyd did acknowledge that it would feel especially good to put the past to bed on a few teams Salisbury has struggled to beat in recent years.
"We have Virginia Wesleyan early and we want to get them off of our back and take them down," Lloyd said. "We are going down to Washington & Lee University and will play both them and Bridgewater College the second weekend. In each case, we will be looking for redemption."
Lloyd finished by adding "There's no one we're going to take for granted. We don't seek easy or soft games. We try to make sure that our kids are playing a competitive schedule, so it can prepare them for the next step, which is getting to the NCAA tournament."
The 2018 season is set to kick off on Friday, August 31 when Salisbury hosts the Salem College Spirits on day one of the annual Salisbury University Classic. That game is set to begin at 2 p.m.