By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
After weeks of grueling preseason practices and competition for playing time, the St. Bonaventure women’s soccer team is ready to kick off the season in Binghamton at 7 p.m. on Friday.
Once again, the Bonnies head into the season with little respect from the prognosticators after being picked last in both the Atlantic 10 preseason coaches’ poll and TopDrawerSoccer.com’s Atlantic 10 preview.
After a 2-6 conference record put Bona at the bottom of the standings last season, followed by the graduations of impact players Brittany Charles, Molly Curry and Alicia Elwell, the team couldn’t have expected to be very high in the preseason polls. But being picked last stings no matter how you slice it, and the team is using it as fuel.
“Rankings and polls have never scored a goal, made a nice save or won a game,” coach Steve Brdarski said.
“I think it gives our team motivation to do better this season and a goal to work towards,” added sophomore forward Danielle Vis. “I think (the rankings) give us a desire to work hard and prove them wrong.”
Senior forward Lauren Hill was a sophomore in 2013, the last time Bonaventure was picked dead last in the coaches’ poll. That season, the first of Brdarski’s tenure, the Bonnies defied the odds, finishing fourth in the conference and making it to the A-10 semifinals, where they lost to Dayton.
“We always seem to rank pretty low in preseason rankings, so although it does bother me being ranked 14th, we try not to take it to heart and instead use it as fuel to prove everyone wrong,” Hill said.
If history is going to repeat itself in 2015, Hill will have to help lead the charge along with fellow seniors Gabriella Balseca, Stephanie Jenkins, Abby Maiello, Alex Meador and Christina Sarokon. With seven freshmen preparing for their rookie seasons, good leadership is paramount.
Brdarski specifically mentioned Hill and Maiello as players who need to take the next step to help the team win. The duo combined for eight goals last season (Hill scored five and Maiello added three), but the third-year coach wants more.
“You think of Lauren Hill and Abby Maiello, I think those two players in the last two years have been big for us, but we need them to do more,” Brdarski told GoBonnies.com. “Both players have come on in different times and scored goals in particular games, but we’re going to need them to be consistent game in and game out, all season.”
Hill took note of Brdarski’s assessment and aims to be more consistent in her senior campaign.
“This summer I worked hard to get in good shape and improve my shot. I’m going to continue to focus on finishing to gain more consistency.
“Personally, my goal is to do whatever it takes to help us win and to leave everything I have on the field every game.”
Vis was a bright spot for the Bonnies last season. Coaches never know what they’re going to get out of their freshmen, who have to adjust to a faster and more physical style of play than they were accustomed to in high school, but the Milton, Ontario native scored four goals, only trailing Hill in the scoring department.
The 5-foot-3 speedster doesn’t plan on having a sophomore slump. She has plans to develop all aspects of her game, with an emphasis on her first touch and passing accuracy.
It may only be her second year of college soccer, but Vis already has a leadership role on the team after starting every game last season. “I think it is important for everyone on the team to assume a leadership role in different ways,” she said.
“I think with my experience I will be able to help the new players the same way the older girls helped me.”
The projected order of finish doesn’t phase the Bonnies; their goal is still to make it back to the Atlantic 10 tournament. Much of that enthusiasm and determination comes from the top- you’re not going to find many coaches that can match the level of passion for soccer that Steve Brdarski has. From his Twitter analyses of English Premier League, MLS and international matches to the SBU scarves he wears on the sidelines and hands out to soccer fans on his travels, the man loves the beautiful game and loves the program he is leading.
“I am excited for this season, I’m excited for this group,” Brdarski told GoBonnies.com. “We’ve got young players, we have leadership, a good mix of players. Definitely looking forward to seeing what this group can do.”
Can the team go from the bottom of the preseason polls to the Atlantic 10 semis like they did in 2013? The journey starts tonight in Binghamton.