With a third straight division championship in its crosshairs, the UTD women’s soccer team has high expectations as it opens the 2004 season with a home match Sept. 1.
Head Coach John Antonisse has built UTD into the team to beat in the American Southwest Conference (ASC) East division and said he expects nothing less from this year’s squad.
“This group looks like we’re probably the deepest we’ve ever been as far as talent,” Antonisse said. “We’ve always had good teams and I think this one can be as good as any of them. When you get down late in the season, it’s nice to have capable players coming off the bench.”
The 2002 season was hugely successful for the Comets, as they advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III tournament. Last year, after winning the East division, the women fell to Texas Lutheran in the conference tourney.
While only qualifying for post-season play should not be viewed as a failure, Antonisse said the loss will motivate his team throughout this season to get back to the NCAA tournament.
“I heard several of the girls talking right after that semifinal loss, and they were already saying this was something they would not allow to happen again,” Antonisse said in a UTD press release.
Antonisse cited inexperience and failure to capitalize on scoring chances as the major problems that plagued the Comets last season – two shortcomings that will be addressed by the return of leading scorer Tiffany Knoblach and the maturation of a very talented freshman class from a year ago.
“I think last year’s freshman class was really special, but so is this one,” Antonisse said. “Last year’s freshmen will be able to lead this team, but this year’s freshman class will fight for playing time. It’ll be very competitive.”
Among those freshmen are a couple physical center midfielders and the Comets’ goalkeeper of the future, Antonisse said.
Another impact player is sophomore defender Crystal Sanders, who nabbed ASC East Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year honors last season.
Also returning are upperclassmen Katie Johnson and Jessica Beachy, UTD’s two All-Conference selections in 2003.
Johnson, the team’s only senior, fortified a virtually impregnable defense, playing 19 games in goal and netting a league-leading 10.5 shutouts with a cool 0.54 goals against average.
Beachy, a junior midfielder, scored seven goals including three game winners last season.
Antonisse called his four upperclassmen – Johnson, Beachy, junior Cassidy Acuff and junior Natalie Taylor – “extremely great players and very good leaders.”
“Our three juniors are all leaders in their own right. Cassidy Acuff is a very vocal leader and a great player. Beachy and Taylor are probably two of our most talented players. They lead by example,” he said.
Antonisse said that championship-caliber teams count on the support of their fans, and he hopes to win the support of the UTD student body.
“I’d like to have students be comfortable coming to games, and I’d love to have the Couch Potatoes part of our fan base,” he said, referring to the body-painted, raucous group that was found perched on an old couch on the sidelines of Comet basketball games last season. “Having loud fans helps. It really does,” Antonisse said.
Antonisse stopped short of guaranteeing a return to the NCAA tournament, but said if the Comets play up to their potential and bond as a team, an ASC title is certainly within reach.
“Part of winning a conference championship is something that’s intangible, and that’s your team’s unity and respect for one another. We have the talent to get it done for sure, but we have to combine that talent with the intangibles,” he said.
The schedule for Women’s Soccer can be found <a href=”http://cometsports.utdallas.edu/WSOC/schedule.htm”>here.</a>