SPOKANE, Wash. – There is no doubt that the 2011 season was a trial by fire in many ways for the Whitworth women's soccer team. A new head coach, a young roster, a challenging schedule and key injuries led to an 8-6-4 finish. A respectable record, but perhaps not what the Pirates were hoping for heading into the season.
Head coach Jael Hagerott, now in her second season leading the Bucs, believes her squad is ready for a major step forward in 2012.
The Pirates return several key members from last year and Hagerott has brought in a large and talented class that has lifted the roster to an all-time size of 31.
For Hagerott, ball possession and speed will be the keys to success in 2012.
"Two of our strengths will be our ability to possess the ball in midfield and our ability to generate attacking opportunities up front," she said.
With that in mind Hagerott has plenty of experience to work with in the attacking third of the field. Seniors Chloe Cook, Katrin Grant and Chelsea Schooler all have played valuable minutes in the last couple of seasons, while fellow senior Carly Schilperoort had an excellent junior year with two goals and three assists. The Pirates also get back junior Amy Sterk and redshirt sophomore Jill Pecka from injuries. Talented first year player Tiara Pajimola also may get some playing time.
The Whitworth midfield is experienced and talented heading into the season. Seniors Mackenzie Grow and Kelsey Griswold both earned Second Team All-Northwest Conference honors in 2011. Grow led the Pirates offensively with four goals and two assists.
Juniors Abbie Moseley and Kristin Wucherer have both played significant minutes off of the bench for the Pirates, as has sophomores Jackie Day, who played in all 18 matches during her freshman season, and Jessica Webber.
It is in the defensive third of the field where the Pirates will have to overcome key losses to graduation. Center back Anisa Babar was the 2011 NWC Defensive Player of the Year and, along with goalkeeper Callie Bergstrom, was a four-year starter.
Senior Courtney Larson and sophomore Lacee Scott both started the majority of games on defense last year and could take over the two center-back starting spots. But first-year players Rachel Jones and Christina McCormick could push for time as well.
Jami Hegg returns as a starting outside back and Aaren Sherpe gained playing experience as a freshman last year. First-year players Hannah Bokma, Polly Blakely, Sarah Mickelsen and Alexa Strom could be factors as well.
For the first time in four years Whitworth will have a new goalkeeper as three freshmen vie for the starting position. Hagerott has not yet named a starter, but feels strongly about all three: Taylor Floyd, Ashley Rothrock and Andrea Stump.
"Any of these three good keepers should make life difficult for our opponents," Hagerott said.
Whitworth will face another challenging schedule in 2012. The Pirates' non-conference schedule includes 4th-ranked Wheaton (Ill.) and 16th-ranked Cal Lutheran, along with perennial NCAA playoff contenders Chapman (Calif.) and Augustana (Ill.).
Whitworth, picked third in the 2012 NWC coaches poll, will have to take on ten-time NWC champion Puget Sound and up-and-coming Linfield to challenge for the league title this year. Willamette, Whitman and Pacific (Ore.) should also be strong teams within the conference.
"We played a tough schedule last year and it showed us what it takes to compete at a national level," Hagerott said. "But it also showed us that when we are consistent in our play, we can run with some very tough teams."