Youth a common characteristic for soccer teams upcoming seasons
Their Cinderella run ended in heartbreak, but the Raiders stopped grieving long ago.
When Wright State took the field for the Horizon League championship on Nov. 13, their season ended with a 1-0 overtime loss to Loyola. For a team picked last in the conference preseason poll, making it to the finals was unexpected.
The Raiders’ 11-7-2 finish marked the first time since 2001 the program finished with a winning record, while the championship game appearance was their first since 1998.
For fourth year Head Coach Bryan Davis, building on that success shouldn’t be difficult.
WSU loses three seniors: starting midfielder Brian Cothern, defender Kenji Goldman and goalkeeper Corey Whisenhunt. Cothern was third on the Raiders in points (11) and earned a spot on the First Team All-Horizon League. Goldman played in 19 games while Whisenhunt was a backup keeper.
But the core of the team is built on youth as 10 starters return.
Sophomore Bryce Rockwell-Ashton joined Cothern on the conference first team and serves as a scoring threat. Rockwell-Ashton, a midfielder, tied for the team lead with five assists and finished second in goals scored with seven.
Goalkeeper Craig Feehan will be back between the pipes to lead WSU. In his freshman season, Feehan started all but one game and compiled a 10-7-2 record. He earned four shutouts and allowed only 20 goals all season on his way to being named the conference Newcomer of the Year.
Midfielder Justin Laird and defender Gustav Svensson joined Feehan on the All-Newcomer team during their freshman seasons. Laird led the team with seven goals and tied for first with 15 points. Svensson scored only one point all year, but the Swede’s gritty defense proved vital in their run to the league final.
Midfielder Emeka Ononye also started for the Raiders as a freshman last season. His experience at the position softens the blow of Cothern’s departure. Other returning starters are forward Derek Zuniga, midfielder Seth Petrey and defenders Austin List, Greg Marchand and Finlay Milne.
Key reserves include midfielders Will McAteer and Tim Sampson and forwards Drake Stewart and Albert Nilsson. McAteer may step into Cothern’s spot in the starting 11, but he’ll have to beat out a talented group of recruits. Eight new players will join the squad: forward Brett Elder, midfielder Cheick Diawara, forward Nick Peppe, defender Connor McCafferty, forward Erik Anderson, defender Alex Basiakos, keeper Spencer Semple and midfielder John Sandmann.
Each player brings an impressive list of credentials. Collegesoccernews.com gave WSU’s recruiting class three stars and named the Raiders as a team to watch for the upcoming season. The road back to the Horizon League final begins on Aug. 24 with a match at Marshall. For WSU, it’s a chance to make amends for unfinished business.
One goal kept the Raiders from the title and that memory will fuel what looks to be another winning season for Davis and his squad.
The Raiders fought their way to the Horizon League tournament final on Nov. 6, but a return will be difficult this year. Though Wright State (10-8-3) fell to Wisconsin-Milwaukee 5-1 in that match, the journey there highlighted a season of highs and lows.
Win streaks were followed by periods of losing. Building momentum over sustained periods proved tough for the Raiders heading into the Horizon League championships. They won their first two games in the tournament over Cleveland State and Detroit before falling to UWM. Like the men’s team, their season ended with a loss in the conference final. But the women’s team faces more roster turnover.
Nine players graduate this spring, including seven starters. Gone from the lineup are forwards Adrianna Guerrero, Bekah Bonny and Brittany Persuad, as well as midfielders Jen Agueci, Cassie Gross, Sarah Palermo and I’esha King. Reserve forwards Morgan Butler and Katie Broerman also left. Persuad, the school’s all-time leader in assists, signed to play professional soccer in Sweden. The midfielder made First Team All-Horizon League the past two seasons and led the team in points for 2011.
Bonny joined Persuad on the conference First Team last season and finished first on the team with seven goals scored. King, Ageuci and Guerrero finished right behind Bonny and Persuad in scoring. Without that core group of scorers, finding the back of the net will be tough for the Raiders this fall.
But the four returning starters provide hope.
Sophomore goalkeeper Brooke McCurdy started 20 games and gave up 30 goals all year. A member of the conference Newcomer team in 2010, her improved play last year kept the Raiders in games.
While the team loses its scoring punch, three key defenders are back. Junior Lauren Patterson, sophomore Liz Soto and freshman Allie Metzler provided tough defense on a team that gave up 31 goals all season. Their play will be crucial this season as WSU tries to find a new offensive identity.
How the Raiders replace their starting midfielders and forwards will be the focus of the team this season. Midfielders Morgan Rice (So.), Sarah Gross (So.), Jennifer Gilbert (Jr.) and Navneet Aujila (Jr.) should step into starting roles this fall.
Forwards Tiffany Wehmeyer (Fr.), Emilie Fillion (So.), Ashley Miltko (So.) are the next in line to replace Persuad, Bonny and Guerrero. The team’s success this season will depend on their ability to generate offense.
The new-look Raiders will take the field on Aug. 5 for an exhibition against Xavier. Twelve days later, their season begins at home against Ohio. A return to the Horizon League final may be unlikely, but WSU’s youth will provide a season of highlights.