Southern Maryland's college sports season will kick off at 3 p.m. Wednesday with a St. Mary's College home soccer doubleheader against Cabrini. Throughout the next two months, teams from St. Mary's will participate in NCAA competition in soccer, field hockey and women's volleyball. The individual teams are previewed below.
St. Mary's Men's Soccer--The Seahawks are looking forward to the season after posting 18 wins the past two years, the best two-year stretch in school history. Third-year coach Eric Wagner has nine starters returning from last year's 9-10 side that finished fourth in the Capital Athletic Conference.
"We had a very young team last year," he said. "We're going to be loaded with experience and leadership."
The strength of the team is in the back, where second-team all-CAC senior David Adams will anchor a defense whose performance will be crucial to the Seahawks' success.
"Two years ago, our defense was our calling card, and last year, when we defended well, we competed with the best teams in the country," Wagner said.
Up front, all-CAC sophomore forward Ryan Olsen, who led the team with 11 goals last season, will be joined by sophomore Jesse McDonough (three goals) and promising freshman Dustin Abey, last year's Anne Arundel County player of the year at state champion Chesapeake.
St. Mary's Women's Soccer--Conversely, the Seahawks women lost five starters off a team that went 12-3-2 last season.
"Our biggest question mark is who will step up and be a consistent scorer for us this year," said Coach Mike Sweeney, who will direct the team for the sixteenth season.
Sophomore Christa Childers tallied six goals and three assists in 1998 and is the leading scorer among returning players. She will be supported up front by sophomore Aubrey Banig (five goals, three assists) and an experienced midfield led by second-team all-CAC senior Yvonne Heffernan (six goals, one assist).
The defense conceded just 17 goals last season, and it should be strong again despite its relative inexperience. Sophomore goalkeeper Laura Carrier posted a 0.87 goals-against average last season and likely will be the starter. Sophomore sweeper Kathy Holmes was the CAC's rookie of the year.
"Defensively we were very solid last year, and our defense should continue to be one of our strengths again," Sweeney said.
St. Mary's Volleyball--After finishing 13-17 in 1997, the volleyball squad went 20-11 and set a school record for conference victories with five in 1998. With several top players returning, second-year coach Bryan Snyder is optimistic.
"If we stay healthy and play hard all season long, I feel like we have a good shot at winning the conference and advancing to the NCAA tournament," he said.
All-CAC senior outside hitter Tiggy Stevens led the team with 322 kills last year and will pace an offense that set a school record with an attack percentage of .256. Also returning are junior Tracy Miksis (233 kills), sophomore Jody Costa (202 kills) and senior setter Sylvia Kaltreider, who last year set a school record with 896 assists.
The younger players on defense may be key for the Seahawks.
"We lost our career blocks leader and our career digs leader to graduation," Snyder said, "so everyone is going to have to step up their defensive play to make up for those losses."
Junior Kate Kiemle, who had 154 digs as a freshman but missed most of last season with a knee injury, will be counted on for support.
St. Mary's Field Hockey--With a brand new coach and almost a dozen new players, the field hockey team may be hard-pressed to improve on its consecutive 3-12 finishes. But Coach Melissa Moore is confident that the changes have brought renewed enthusiasm to the program.
"We are going to be a younger and better team this year," she said. "There will be 10 or 11 new faces on our team . . . and with those new faces come new attitudes."
The defensive core will be back, including sophomore goalkeeper Nichole Downs, who played every minute of last season, second team all-CAC sophomore Laura Rhodes and junior Cara Roviello, who led the conference with 0.4 defensive saves per game.
The offense scored just 23 times last year, and will rely on younger players to fill the net more often.
"We will rely a lot on freshmen and sophomores for our scoring, but they are all capable scorers, and hopefully the sophomores will step up after having a year under their belts," Moore said.
CAPTION: St. Mary's defender David Adams, right, dribbles past Dennis Perez during a scrimmage with Charles County CC. Adams, a second-team all-conference player, is expected to anchor the back line.
CAPTION: Freshman Dustin Abey, shown rising above Charles County's Robbie Richardson, on ground, and Nick Catena, will join Ryan Olsen, an all-conference forward who led the St. Mary's offense with 11 goals last season.