by Benny Benton
WILSON, N.C. – The women's soccer coaches in Conference Carolinas have predicted through their annual preseason poll that this season Barton College will miss the league tournament for the first time in four years.
The Lady Bulldogs were picked ninth in the poll, one spot lower than they finished in 2015 following a 2-5-4 league slate. Barton received 39 points in the voting, two points behind eighth-place Lees-McRae College and three points behind seventh-place North Greenville University.
The league's coaches can find support for their argument in the fact that Barton must replace more than 80 percent of its offense from last year's 6-8-4 squad, its starting keeper and virtually its entire starting back line on defense.
Second-year head coach Thomas Goines acknowledges those facts, but he counters that this year's team is deeper across the board after he literally doubled the size of the roster.
"I understand the reasoning and rationale for the vote," Goines said. "You can't lose players like Emily (Futral), Kelsey (Rothwell), and A.B. (Ashley Batchelor) without some expectation of a drop-off year, but that only gives us more opportunity to go out and prove people wrong and have a fun season."
A total of 18 players competed for the Lady Bulldogs at some point in 2015, and by the final few games of the year, injuries had reduced that number to just 13 or 14. In fact, BC's backup keepers were serving as substitutes in the field.
That won't be a problem this year, however, as Goines has a deep roster of 36 players. Now he'll be challenged to find the right combination of players and enough minutes for everyone.
"Communication is key in letting the girls know their roles within the program," Goines said. "I think there's a certain level of excitement in that. Where they may have been short-handed in the past and forced to play extended minutes, now they know that they have depth. But it also brings a new era of competition, and they've embraced that. They understand that they have to fight for their spot and their time every single day in training. It's certainly a challenge dealing with that number of quality players, but at the same time it creates a much-improved training environment."
The deep roster will allow Goines to attack more on offense than a year ago.
"We're going to see early on if we can organize a higher pressure system than we did last year," he said. "We were forced last year to be a sit-and-counter team. Our numbers would not have allowed us to survive a game at a higher pace. But we've got enough depth in positions to where we should be able to attack the field a little more aggressively."
Figuring out who will be doing the attacking remains to be seen, however. The players on this year's roster accounted for just four of Barton's 21 total goals and four of its 15 total assists in 2015.
"Up top, the headliner will probably be (junior) Taylor Doeble (who has four goals and four assists in 22 career starts)," Goines said. "We have a senior, Kelly Dolan, who will probably find time there. (Sophomore) Ellen Jayne is returning and had a very good preseason, and after that, you have a good group of freshmen who are competing very well for time."
On the opposite end of the pitch, Barton has three players competing for the goalkeeping duties. Senior Allison Bell and junior Haley Sauls managed about 340 total minutes between the pipes last year, primarily in reserve roles, giving up just one combined goal with 11 saves. They will be joined at the position by freshman Megan Bolick.
"There's good competition of who's going to come out on top," Goines said. "We'll likely use a rotation system early in the year and figure out who's doing the best."
In-between the front line and the keepers, Goines has a lot of evaluating to do. He has one returning starter on the back line in junior Nikki Helton, and senior Jessica Lime will be contributing in that area as well. Sophomore Macenzie Christensen is the midfield's most experienced returnee, but she may spend most of her time on defense this year as well.
That leaves most of the midfield and back row open for some combination among the 20 freshmen and two junior transfers who now make up a majority of the team.
Among the newcomers who Goines noted had stood out in preseason are Chelsea Hawley, Amanda Kraft and Rebecca Fraser in the midfield, as well as Regan Collins and Carson Molaro on the back line. He also pointed out that redshirt sophomore Emma Mitchell, who sat out last season, will now be able to compete in the midfield.
"It's an obvious statement that we're a young team," Goines said. "When it comes down to it, your hope is that you're playing your best soccer at the end. It's about growth and development. We're going to be relying on young players all year long."
Conference Carolinas 2015 regular season champion Belmont Abbey College and tournament winner Limestone College shared the top spot in the coaches' poll, both receiving 95 total points. King University was picked third with 78 points.
Barton will kick off its 2016 season with a two-game road trip that begins in Philadelphia on Friday, Sept. 2, against Chestnut Hill College.
|Conference Carolinas Women's Soccer|
|2016 Preseason Coaches Poll|
|1.||Belmont Abbey College||95 (5)|
|Limestone College||95 (6)|
|5.||University of Mount Olive||64|
|7.||North Greenville University||42|
|11.||Southern Wesleyan University||12|