by Andrew Goodwin, Sports Information Assistant
SPOKANE, Wash. – For the second straight year Whitworth women's soccer is set to open its season in the eastern time zone, traveling to Pennsylvania to battle Franklin & Marshall and fifth-ranked Messiah.
The Pirates open their season on Friday, Aug. 31 against Franklin & Marshall at 1:00 p.m. (PDT). The Bucs then take on the fifth-ranked Falcons the following day at 4:30 p.m. (PDT).
Video and live statistics links will be available on the Whitworth women's soccer schedule. Please note that all times on the schedule are listed in Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).
The Pirates: Whitworth enters the 2018 season with an eye on the top of the Northwest Conference after improving steadily in 2016 and 2017. The Pirates put together their best season since 2012 two years ago, tying for third in the NWC. The team bettered itself even more last year, tying for second with perennial conference power Puget Sound. Earlier this week, Northwest Conference coaches picked the Pirates to finish third, behind Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound.
Whitworth returns several talented players that could lead a title run in 2018. Among those athletes are the Bucs' three returning All-Northwest Conference selections. All-NWC first team choice Sydney Weiler will lead the Pirate defense and honorable mention selection Arielle Van Peursem looks ready to run the attack. Kelly Wucherer, an all-conference second team honoree in 2017, is Whitworth's top returning goal-scorer after totaling three last year.
Getting Defensive: Whitworth's defense was one of the keys to its success in 2017. The Pirates allowed barely more than one goal per game (1.08) and finished the year with eight shutouts, the third-most in the Northwest Conference.
Magnificent Molly: In her first year as a Pirate, goalkeeper Molly Webster established herself as one of the best in the NWC. The senior finished last year tied for second in the conference in total goals against (11), and fourth in goals against average (.95).
Home Sweet Home: During third-year head coach Bryan Olson's tenure at Whitworth, the Pirates are 15-2-1 playing on the Whitworth Soccer Field. In 2016, Whitworth finished 7-1 at home and the Pirates went 8-1-1 in Spokane last year
The Diplomats: Franklin & Marshall is looking to get back over .500 after finishing last season with a 6-9-1 record. The Diplomats best returner may be sophomore goalkeeper Gabby Panayotakis, who posted a 1.27 GAA with a .800 save percentage last year. The top returning scorer is Allison Klei, who netted two goals with one assist in 2017. The Diplomats played one Northwest Conference opponent last year. They dropped the match 3-0 to NWC champion Pacific Lutheran.
The Falcons: Messiah enters its 2018 season ranked fifth in the nation by United Soccer Coaches. The Falcons advanced to the national quarterfinals last year before being eliminated by The College of New Jersey in penalty kicks. Messiah returns its top goal-scorer and facilitator, Brooke Firestone (10 goals, 12 assists), as well as sophomore goalkeeper Lydia Ewing.
Looking Ahead: The Bucs travel to Walla Walla, Wash. next weekend to duel NAIA opponents. Whitworth takes on The College of Idaho on Saturday, Sept. 8 before battling Carroll (Mont.) on Sunday, Sept. 9. Both matches will be at Whitman College.
The Coach: Bryan Olson was named the head coach for the Pirate women's soccer team in February of 2016 and enters his third year leading the Bucs in the fall of 2018. In his two seasons at the helm, Whitworth has a 22-16-2 overall record and a 20-10-2 mark in the Northwest Conference.
Olson was the top assistant coach for the Whitworth men's soccer team for six seasons prior to leading the women's team. His title was elevated to Associate Head Coach ahead of the 2015 season. Over that time the Pirate men's team posted a record of 66-17-12 and made the NCAA Division III Tournament three times (2012, 2014 and 2015).