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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Women's Soccer Preview -- SATURDAY CARDINAL COUPLE

What's in Store for the Kickin' Cards?

Since the women's soccer team will be opening up the fall competition this year for UofL, it seems only fitting for them to get the preview treatment first. You've already seen my lofty goals for the Cards. I want 12 wins, a win in an ACC tournament game, and an NCAA appearance. I think that if the first two happen, the third is a foregone conclusion, but stranger things have happened. Last week on the Cardinal Couple Radio Hour, you may have heard me defend my goals. While the Cards finished only 7-7-4 last season, with a 2-5-3 conference mark, I think they are far more likely to move forward this year than back. The women's soccer team is due for a big step up, and I believe they have the team this year to do it. 

The ladies at Lynn are led by head coach Karen Ferguson-Dayes. Coach K has been in charge for 16 seasons, and there are those that believe her best days as head coach are behind her. The Cards have made the NCAA tournament 4 times under Coach K's control, but not since 2013. It was in 2011 that the Cards made the Sweet 16 and won a school record 14 games. (Yes, my goal for their season is only two games off of the school record.) To the naked eye, it may appear that this team has seen better days and that it will take a new leader to bring them out of their current slump. However, soccer is a fairly cyclical sport. A single player or group of players can spell massive success for a team, and losing those players can create a void. That does not mean that Coach K is not able to recruit other good players or that the team cannot exist without stars, merely that it can be harder to find an identity in that situation.

I played soccer for 15 years before graduating high school and putting my particularly competitive days behind me. Since I have played in an adult league and in college intramurals. Unlike football, where all eleven guys on the field have a specific role and a specific task on each play, soccer requires extreme team chemistry and mental understanding. Not having a vocal team leader can lead to miscommunication on plays, and a single misplay in soccer can lose the game. Other sports provide other opportunities, whereas soccer may be the most punishing for even an attacker making a mistake. The attack is, of course, the first line of defense. The Cards this season may not have that star player to shine on the field and lead the team (but they might, who is to say), but they certainly have a greater chance at team chemistry. Some of the key members of last year's offense were young. Even if they were extremely talented, it is hard to create significant chemistry in such a short time, especially with organized team activity rules in place in college. Look for a step up in maturity and teamwork on the field this season.

This past year, Louisville's biggest loss was that of goalkeeper Taylor Bucklin. She provided a rock solid defense in the goal box, yielding only 20 goals against while racking up 72 saves in 1,714 minutes. She recorded 3 clean sheets and had a 1.05 goal against average. It is hard to replace that, but the Cards have last year's back up, Victoria Gabor, leading a host of challengers to take the spot on the back line. Tori is the only other keeper on Louisville's roster, having played 37 minutes in relief last season, garnering 1 save and giving up 0 goals. However, most of Louisville's key players returned. That said, Louisville sits with 6 seniors on this season's roster. With some of the star studded names from last year (Allison Whitfield, Brooklynn Rivers, Niamh Nelson, Sarah Feola) being only sophomores and soon-to-be big contributors like Kennadi Carbin being added to the fray, this is the year for the offense to be the driving force of this team. Last year's offense put up 27 goals, however many came in the early part of the year against lesser non conference opponents. They finished with a shot conversion percentage of just over 9% and an on-goal percentage of 47%. Yikes. This year's team should make strides toward better shot decision making, which should only lead to an increase in goal production. Last season's team outscored opponents by a total of 27-20. They still lost or drew 11 games. With a higher octane offense this season, the Cards stand to turn a lot of those losses and draws into wins.

Last year the Cards played only 8 non-conference games with only 1 on the road. They went 5-2-1, with the draw coming at Ball State. Louisville with face 10 non-conference teams to open their schedule with perhaps the three biggest (Ohio State, Indiana, UK) all coming on the road. Louisville will need to be tuned in ready to go. After opening with OSU on the road, they'll come home to open at Lynn Stadium against Depaul. Last season's early season successes may have been fools gold. Louisville played inferior opponents and got burned in ACC play. That said, one of Louisville's two conference wins came against then-number-one UNC at Lynn Stadium. This season's non-conference schedule, while still containing a few pushovers, should create a more realistic view of this team early on. I have complete confidence that they can find an average of 6 wins each between conference and non-conference.

Cardinal Couple Radio Hour

It's Saturday, and you know what that means! We knuckleheads will return to our seats in the studio and bring to you an hour of the joy and excitement of women's sports. Paulie might even drive himself! We may ramble, get off track, and discuss the male Cards, but we will have plenty to discuss regarding the crux of this site. Paulie also gathered an exclusive interview with former Cardinal Becky Burke that you won't want to miss. Tune into the Cardinal Couple Radio Hour at 11AM on 100.9 WCHQ FM. The replay can be found at the link below:


Until next time, Go Cards.

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