Aug 18, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Now that the new Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex is ready to open, the Marshall women’s program wants to do a similar construction job on the field.
Thundering Herd Coach Kevin Long enters his sixth MU season with Friday night’s stadium dedication opener against Campbell. He said that his team needs to take advantage of its new home – and 10 home dates -- and the major realignment of Conference USA.
Marshall also has another potential advantage – the first four regular-season games are at Veterans Memorial.
“As a program, we’ve been spending a lot of time trying to become more of a competitive culture in and of ourselves – something that’s been in progress the last couple of years,” said Long, who is starting his 15th season as a head coach.
“Coupled with the fact that we’re slated to become more competitive on the field, hopefully -- knock on wood -- we think the timing is perfect. Throw in there that we have this new stadium, this great new field surface, an atmosphere, and it’s like a brand new beginning for us.
“Everything’s come alive at the same time. With that, we need to take advantage of it. We’re eager to see our new opponents, we’re here to protect our new home field and play a brand of soccer all Marshall fans, coaches, players, staff, families can all be proud of.”
The Herd is coming off a 7-11-1 (3-7-1 C-USA) season, and lost five significant seniors. But Long is buoyed by the return of six 2012 freshman starters, led by all-conference third team pick Erin Simmons. The forward from Gahanna, Ohio, was a C-USA All-Freshman selection, too, after sharing the team goals’ lead (6) with senior Chelsey Maiden.
“Erin was named a Player to Watch in the conference (in 2013 preseason), and she has a lot of people’s attention already,” Long said. “She’s recovering from knee surgery (torn right ACL) and she missed most of spring with us, but she’s back.
“We’ll see how she develops this year, and I hope that she can pick up right where she left off. If she does that, it will be quite a challenge because she’s been out six months.
“Erin’s important for us, and we have two seniors who will probably drive us in the midfield – Lizzie Lemons and Casey Walsh. Both played a lot of minutes last year. Some opponents we play, we’ll probably do as well as those two allow us to do.
“Our success will be based on the backs of those two in the center of the field.”
Besides Maiden’s scoring, the Herd lost midfielder Sarah Vinson, who played a school-record 76 games (and starts) in her four years. Also gone is last season’s every-game starter in goal, Lindsey Kerns.
“We’ve got some big holes to fill,” said Long, a Springfield, Va., native and George Mason alumnus who previously was a head coach at Randolph (Va.) and Rider. “Sarah played probably more minutes than anyone in school history, had a 4.0, an academic everything, just a great person. She was one of our players who got it done in everything she did.
“And I say we have some very big shoes to fill, but we think we have a big impact freshman class, like last year, and I don’t think we’re dropping off. I think we’re going to be different -- capable players rising up in (the 2012 seniors’) place, but getting the job done in different ways.
“That’s something that will be a challenge. Replacing Sarah at the center-mid – among all those players – will be the largest challenge we have. A lot of times it was freshmen and seniors leading the way. Now, we predominantly look to a (2012) freshman class that did so well for us.
“We expect them to grow from their freshman years, not shrink away, making even bigger impact this season. We have some freshmen coming in that we really need and expect big things from right away, too.”
Finding a goalkeeper heads Long’s list.
“Solving that area is one of the key things we need to do,” Long said last week. “We’ll see in preseason who wins the spot. We have a freshman keeper (Danielle Cushing of Colorado) who did a lot as a club player, and we think the world of her, and she could step right up and compete.
“We have (junior) Lizzie Kish returning. She had an ACL (surgery in the preseason of) her freshman year, and was still coming back most of last year. It took her a long time to get back to full strength, but she’s fit, looks agile, strong, and should compete right away.”
After a three-win improvement in 2012 from a 4-12-3 mark the previous season, Long said the Herd hopes to advance in a C-USA that now includes 16 women’s soccer-playing schools in two divisions. Marshall finished ninth in a 12-team C-USA format last season.
Each C-USA team plays 10 league games now. Marshall is in an East Division with Old Dominion, FIU, FAU, Charlotte, East Carolina, UAB and Middle Tennessee. The three West Division crossover foes for the Herd are Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss and Tulsa.
Only the top five in the standings in each division make the C-USA Tournament in early November. The Herd does not play the top three picks in the C-USA coaches’ preseason poll – Colorado College, Rice and North Texas.
“Our side of the conference has quite a few new teams in it,” Long said. “We play six of our 10 games against opponents we’ve never played before (FIU, FAU, Middle, ODU, Charlotte and LaTech).
“That alone says there’s an opportunity for difference for us. Coupled with the fact we play some who we’ve been pretty competitive with over the years, and we think our destiny is clearly in our hands. We have to make sure we prepare properly, work hard in preseason, and then it’s about execution.
“We put ourselves in position early last season to take over games, make the proper stops and saves to win games, but we’d break down in execution. Within a year, a realignment of conference, new stadium, anything and everything else, the real deciding factor of our success will be based on preparation and execution.”