Improvement Continues Under Morris
By KERRY GIBBS
Rio Grande Sports Information
RIO GRANDE, Ohio – The old adage “what a difference a year makes” can certainly be taken to heart by University of Rio Grande women’s soccer head coach Callum Morris.
The third-year coach will look out onto the pitch this season and see seven new faces to replace eight departures from the 2012 squad. Despite the youth and inexperience of the team, Morris still expects the 2013 version of the RedStorm to be geared up and motivated for the start of the season after last year’s “up and down” campaign which was riddled with injuries.
“We started off really well last season but, as the season went on, we had a few injuries to some key players down the stretch. We went off the tracks a bit in terms of our season,” Morris said. “I know injuries can’t always be the explanation to why we weren’t playing well, but it really hurt us. Towards the end of the season we started picking things up again and really caused problems for (eventual national champion) Lindsey Wilson. We really made great strides considering where the program was just a few years ago.”
Morris has energized Rio's women’s soccer program, posting back-to-back six-win seasons. He currently stands at just seven victories away from being at the top of the young program’s all-time win list.
After splitting their first eight matches in 2012, the RedStorm lost seven of their last nine games and were shutout a total of 10 times during the season. Among the 11 total losses, four were by just one goal.
There were some bright spots, however. The RedStorm posted a winning mark at home, which is a measure of momentum that Morris wants to carry over into the new season.
“This year, I think we’re quite fortunate that we have 11 home games. We were strong at home last year,” he said. “I’m hoping we follow along last year’s consistency that we had at home and apply it this season. If we do that, I think we’ll do quite well.”
Morris will look to rely on the leadership and experience of four upperclassmen and some very talented second-year players to continue that same consistency this season.
Rio will field six players with starting experience from last year’s campaign and bring in seven freshmen to the squad who will most certainly see immediate action once the season is underway. The RedStorm will also bring back midfielder Rachel Hoffman, who was redshirted last year and will have three years of eligibility remaining.
“There are a lot of new faces this season, and we’re just hoping that the players can come in and use their technical ability in a college game,” said Morris. “Obviously, moving from high school to college is a big jump and I’m hoping they can adjust quickly to the speed. Our first five or six games we play some strong opposition and I’m hoping that we can get a good start and hit the ground running once conference play begins.”
Of the eight departures from last season, only three – forward Alexandria Davis, defender Katie Fuller and defender Venessa Montgomery – were full-time starters. The trio accounted for a combined nine goals and 11 assists.
And, as many other teams do, Rio has already been dealt a huge blow in the injury department.
Promising sophomore Taylor Ahrens (Ross, OH) went down during the first day of preseason with a knee injury that could sideline her for most of the 2013 campaign. Ahrens scored four goals and recorded four assists last year for the RedStorm.
“Hopefully things aren’t as bad for Taylor as doctors had first expected,” Morris explained. “Regardless, that’s a big loss for us, because Taylor’s was a strong player for us as a freshman. Honestly, it’s been a weird preseason for us, but hopefully once we get into the season we can stay injury-free.”
Among the returnees for the RedStorm are some very productive players from last year’s squad.
At the top of that list is sophomore forward Kasey Crow (Chillicothe, OH), who led the team in scoring (10 goals) and points (23) last season and was nominated for Mid-South Conference Freshman of the Year. She is on pace to shatter many Rio women’s soccer records this season, given that she's already ranked third all-time in both goals and points in the program’s young history.
“Kasey had a great season last year and the players rewarded her by electing her as co-captain for this upcoming season,” said Morris. “We’re just hoping she progresses as well this year as she did in her first year. If she can maintain or improve on what she did last season, we’ll be doing really well.”
Also returning to the squad is lone senior Mary Beth Schramm (Marietta, OH), junior Allison Keeney (Cincinnati, OH) and sophomore Courtney Young (Okeana, OH).
Schramm, a defender, started all 17 games last season and scored one goal. She can put herself at the top of the all-time list in the games played category if she continues that trend and stays healthy this season.
Keeney, a goalkeeper, had a very respectable .750 save percentage last year and a shutout to her credit. Morris said the goalie job was Keeney’s to lose as workouts got underway and, thanks to the departure of freshman signees Dana Van Buskirk (Bellfontaine, OH) and Jessica Cremeans (Albany, OH) during the preseason, she will be the club's full-time net-minder.
Courtney Young, a forward from Okeana, Ohio, burst onto the scene last year as a freshman by scoring five goals - four of which came in a win over Kentucky Christian - and assisting on another. She missed the final six games of the season, though, due to injury.
Others returning for the RedStorm include juniors Renee Davis (Amsterdam, OH) and Karla Garn (Morrow, OH). Davis started all 17 games last season as a midfielder and Garn appeared in 14 games as a forward. With the pre-season losses at keeper, Garn may also see action as reserve in goal this season.
The new faces on the roster include forward Carli Henman (Bellafontaine, OH); defenders Hannah Brindle (Bolton, England), Brooke Keipper (Cincinnati, OH) and Carrie Mathes (Springboro, OH); and midfielders Ashley Meek (Villa Hills, KY), Laurel Amstutz (Yellow Springs, OH) and Melissa Dickerson (Little Hocking, OH).
Brindle is the first international signee in the program's history.
Despite the mixture of old and new, Morris can already feel his team coming together.
“The group that we have on the field has a lot of chemistry,” he said. “Just seeing them laughing and talking with each other in the preseason is a great relief moving forward and a good sign for the rest of the season.”
With a non-conference schedule that includes the likes of Davenport and a trip to Mount Vernon Nazarene, the RedStorm should be very seasoned by the time conference play rolls around and play begins against foes such as Lindsey Wilson and defending MSC Tournament champion Cumberland (Tenn.) University.
For Morris, though, it’s all about taking things one game at a time.
“On the hole, the team is looking very good. I think we are going to turn a lot of heads this year," he said. "But it all starts with making sure the girls know that every game is going to present a different challenge. If they believe in each other and believe in themselves, I think we’ll be just fine.”
Rio Grande dropped its opener, 4-1, at Mount Vernon Nazarene on Tuesday. The RedStorm will look to rebound with their home opener at 5 p.m. Saturday against Point Park (Pa.) University.