Cards Look to Replace Significant Production
Because the goalkeeper position is so intertwined with departures, returnees, and new entrants, I'm breaking it out here. Louisville had the unique problem of replacing a career stalwart in goal last season. Gabby Kouzelos graduated after playing six seasons for the Cards. Kouzelos is Louisville's career leader in games played with 85, having started in all of them. To have done that as a goalkeeper is even more impressive, as she played more than 2,000 minutes more than the next highest goalkeeper (Meredith Miller, 01-04) and has the fifth lowest goals against average (1.13). Kouzelos's 28 shutouts were good for 33% of her total matches and put her atop the leaderboard in that career stat as well. (Side note: As impressive as Kouzelos's numbers are over her entire career, they benefit from Louisville only having the services of Joanna Haig for two years in 2006 and 2007. Haig only played around 3,600 minutes, about 4,000 fewer than Kouzelos, but those made up nearly every minute of the 41 games in those two seasons. She put up a goals against average of 0.48 and had 20 shutouts (48.7%). That's... pretty good.)
While losing an experienced goalkeeper is unfortunate, Gabby Kouzelos showed that KFD is more than willing to hand over the reins to a freshman goalkeeper and let that player defend their position for their career. While Olivia Pratapas looked set to inherit the spot between the pipes for Louisville, her role was threatened by the incoming transfer of Alyssa Zalac and the arrival of freshman Erynn Floyd. As it turned out, Pratapas had no competition from Zalac, as Alyssa was inactive for the season. Early on, Coach Karen Ferguson-Dayes seemed content to rotate Pratapas and Floyd to determine who would earn the spot. It took much less time than expected for the full-time job to be handed over to Floyd. Pratapas ultimately earned just 212 minutes, playing in three games, while Floyd played 1228 minutes in 14 starts.
Olivia Pratapas, originally from Clemmons, North Carolina, transferred to NC State following the 2022 season. NC State notes that they were interested in Pratapas during her initial collegiate search, but that she committed to Louisville very early in the process. While it's unfortunate to see a player transfer in conference, we wish her the best going forward.
While Floyd has the keys to the car, it's not yet clear if it's only a lease. The aforementioned Zalac has a full season under her belt in the program and is technically in the same class as Floyd after redshirting at Ole Miss prior to transferring. Zalac is interesting, having been eligible to play last year but seeing no time. Zalac hasn't seen live action since club ball in Quebec in 2019. Her one season at Vanier College in Montreal was scrapped due to Covid in 2020 and she didn't play prior to redshirting at Ole Miss.
Another transfer also entered the goalkeeper room this season. Malene Nielsen is a junior transfer from Fairleigh Dickinson (perhaps best known for the puns on their name during March Madness). Nielsen hails from Juelsminde, Denmark and is of no relation to junior midfielder Ava Nielsen. Nielsen started 21 games last season, allowing 1.88 goals and tallying 100 saves. She had five or more saves in 10 games, tallying nine in the season opener. In her freshman season, Nielsen was named NEC Goalkeeper of the Year and made the All-NEC First Team. She played in every minute of the 2021 season, allowing just 1.2 goals per game and saving 78.7% of shots faced. My guess is that this is the primary threat to Erynn Floyd, and I would expect to see all three goalkeepers early in the season.
Louisville loses a number of major contributors from last season. While a total of nine players left the program via graduation, transfer, or other departure, three of those players recorded no stats for the Cards in 2022. Two freshmen, Evelyn Pazienza and Riley Goss, and junior Riley Mullady didn't get on the field last year and are no longer a part of the team. In addition to the three players departing that earned no stats, five other rostered Cardinals saw action in 0 games. Since we've already talked about goalkeepers, I'll take them out of the equation as well. For the purposes of any future stats, the numbers will be out of the 19 field players that played in at least one game.
Although two of the five departures are defensive starters, the offensive production lost is even more significant. Louisville loses just 36% of its shots from last year, but it loses 61.5% of goals, 50% of assists, and 58.8% of total points. Louisville's 13 goals were scored by eight players. All five departing players scored at least one goal, with Maisie Whitsett being the team leader. Three of the players took above the average number of shots (at least 10), and Whitsett accounted for nearly 33% of the team's points on her own. She had four goals and three assists on the year.
Sarah Hernandez didn't have the flashy offensive stats, but she had been a defensive stalwart since her freshman year. Hernandez played in 82 games over five years, starting in every one. In those 82 games, she played 7,404 minutes. That's an average of 90.3 minutes per game. There are 90 minutes in a regulation match. Replacing a center defender like that doesn't come easy. Hernandez was an instrumental part of the defense Gabby Kouzelos commanded, and she made it her own last year in Kouzelos's absence. In addition to being the primary defender, Hernandez finished her career with eight goals and an assist. She scored three game winners. Just like losing Kouzelos was hard the year before because of all she provided on and off the pitch, losing Hernandez will be hard this season.
While the Cards expected to lose four of these five players, it doesn't make it easier to stomach. Graduations can be planned for, but Louisville would have liked to have had more production from returning players to count on. They'll now need to depend on the incoming freshmen and transfers that much more. For a team that struggled offensively as much as it did last season, watching half of that offense walk out the door is a bit painful.
The big shock came when the Cards learned they would also lose Anouk Denton. Denton decided to leave Louisville to return to England to play for West Ham United in the Women's Super League. It's hard to fault her for the decision, but it means Louisville loses two of four defensive starters from last season instead of just one. Denton was a major factor in Louisville's strong defense as well as their play from the back, as Denton worked the opposite side of the field from Ravin Alexander. She had a goal and 11 shots out of the back.
Perhaps Louisville's most important returner is the previously mentioned Ravin Alexander. Alexander returns for a graduate year in what will be her fifth active season for the Cards. She redshirted as a freshman in 2018. Alexander has started in 56 of her 57 career matches. While she has just two goals and no assists in that time, she has played in over 90% of the available minutes. Alexander has put 50% of her 30 shots on frame, presenting pressure to the opposing defense if not actually getting the ball in the back of the net. Her presence is most felt in her recovery speed on the outside of a wide defensive line. Alexander frequently works the ball up the sideline, but is hardly ever beaten back after a turnover. The ability to work both directions will remain critical as the Cards need to replace both her running mate and a center defender this year.
Aiding Alexander on the back line will be one of the freshman revelations from last season, Karsyn Cherry. Cherry stepped in alongside Sarah Hernandez in the center of the defense. She was afforded a bit of leeway defensively with Hernandez there to clean up some mistakes, but she loses that safety net this year. Hernandez's presence allowed Cherry to float forward, as she threatened Whitsett's offensive dominance early in the year. Cherry ended up second on the team in goals, as she finished with three. Cherry played 1230 minutes in 14 games. She'll be asked to develop quite a bit, as the lead of the defense will fall on her shoulders, but she showed last year she can be quite capable.
Another freshman surprise last season was the midfield pair of Addie Chester and Lizzie Sexton. They played 820 and 920 minutes, respectively, with 15 and 16 games played and 12 and 13 games started. Chester played more of the offensive minded midfield role with Sexton filling the center defensive mid style. Chester finished with two assists and took 17 shots, but she couldn't find the back of the net. Both of these players taking big steps forward could be critical for the Cards.
The New Additions
Louisville was a very young team last year. Seventeen players on the roster were freshman or sophomores, with 11 of those being active contributors. While there are still 14 underclassmen on this year's roster, only five are freshmen. Eight of the nine returning sophomores played in at least one game and seven of those eight played in at least half of Louisville's games. In addition to the five freshmen, Louisville brought in four transfers, with one being goalkeeper Malene Nielsen. Joining her are forwards Maya Anand and Amber Jackson and defender Lucy Roberts.
Maya Anand comes to us from Binghamton, which competes in the America East conference. Over the last two seasons, Anand started 36 games and scored 18 goals. She was the 2022 America East Striker of the Year. Amber Jackson started 52 games in three years for Oregon State. She has played a full 90 on 12 occasions and scored eight goals over the last two years while adding three assists in each. Jackson also had two assists as a freshman.
In addition to the two international transfers, Louisville brings in two international freshmen in Viktoria Wik (Denmark) and Fiona Gaißer [Gaisser] (Germay). Each has represented their country at the U-17 level and plays high level club ball. Wik is a midfielder with HB Koge, who advanced to the second round of the 2022 Women's Champions League and currently leads the Danish League. Gaisser plays as a forward for Bayern Munich II in the second division of the German women's league. She scored seven goals in the most recent season and has scored nine goals in 25 matches over the last three seasons.
Louisville loses a lot from last year, but the future is bright with the returning talent and incoming stars. The season starts soon. I'll see you there.
Until next time, Go Cards!