Fourth-year goalkeeper Stephanie Vega will never forget the feeling of winning a major conference title, and that feeling will be a driving force toward the team’s success this season.
“Last season was an unbelievable and great experience for us,” Vega said. “We all put in a ton of hard work together, and we want to do it again.”
The SUNY New Paltz Women’s Soccer team returns to the field after their 2011 season with the goal of earning another SUNYAC title on their mind. This past weekend, the team claimed the Michelle Vargas-Robin Tournament title and showed their dominance against non-conference competition, beating Mount Saint Mary College 1-0 on Aug. 31 and defeating New Jersey City University 5-0 on Sept. 1.
Head Coach Colleen Bruley said the team’s focus in the spring was preparing for this season and the team is ready to kick off into upcoming games.
“We just finished a great, great preseason,” Bruley said. “It was the toughest one we’ve ever had. We would start the morning off with a run of fitness testing, and by the afternoon we’d go onto tactical practices that would include scrimmages.”
Bruley also said the preseason was a time for team bonding, something that fourth-year midfielder Shelby Kondelka said would be key for the team’s success. The starting lineup for this season is nearly identical to the line-up from last year, and Kondelka believes the chemistry from fall 2011 will carry over to this fall campaign.
“I am really looking forward to playing with this team for one more year,” Kondelka said. “There are eight seniors on the team this year, so a majority of us have been playing together for either three of four years now. I really want to win another championship with this set of girls.”
Both Kondelka and Bruley said winning a second championship is difficult, especially now that other teams in the conference are targeting them. As long as the team doesn’t become overconfident, Bruley believes they will be as dominant as they were last season.
“We can’t get overconfident,” Bruley said. “We have to treat every game like it’s a battle. We know what it takes to get to the finals now, and we have to remember that.”
Vega said she wants to contribute to the team the same way she did last season, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to help them make it to the top.
“I want to do everything I did last season and more,” Vega said. “I want to bring us to the SUNYAC Championship and the NCAA Tournament.”
The group on the field this year will look to succeed despite the departure of two seniors. Former Captain Shannon Cobb and Alexa Balestrieri left the team at the end of the fall 2011 run, but the current squad is more than capable of keeping the skill level up to speed and more.
“With Alexa and Cobb, what we’re really losing is two fantastic leaders,” Bruley said. “Cobb did a lot for this team as captain, but I have no doubt that this team will contribute the same level of skill as Cobb and Alexa did.”
Joining the team this year is first-year forward Chelsea Weir, whom Bruley expects to make an immediate impact on the team’s offense. In the game against NJCU, Weir tallied her first goal as a Hawk, and Bruley expects to see more as the season progresses.
“She’s a great scorer and she’s also great in setting up plays,” Bruley said. “I think she’s going to work well with other girls on the team and she’ll definitely help us out.”
The team will begin conference play on Sept. 21, where they play SUNY Cortland. The match will be the first time the two teams have seen each other since the 2011 SUNYAC Finals, where the Hawks defeated the Red Dragons 1-0. Vega said this will be one of the matches the team looks forward to most, and a game that many people will have their eye on.
Kondelka said while conference teams will be gunning for a win against the Hawks, the team is preparing to take on the challenge.
“Winning last year put a huge target on our back for this year, and every team in the conference is going to want to come out and try to beat the defending champion,” Kondelka said. “This means we have to come out and play our best every time we step out on the field.”