The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, August 14, 2013

By Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher

Nothing green about soccer's new talents




By Bethany Bradsher
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On the first day of preseason soccer workouts, head coach Rob Donnenwirth had a strange feeling that something was missing. He knew he had recruited a class of athletes to start this fall, but none of the players on the field looked like they were participating in their first collegiate practice.

“Everybody noticed it the first day. We were playing out there, and we were like, it doesn’t look like there are any freshman out there,” said Donnenwirth, who is embarking on his 15th year at the helm of the team.

Despite a young squad — the Pirates lost seven talented seniors to graduation in the spring — and a starting lineup that is still undetermined going into the season opening scrimmage at Coastal Carolina on Friday, Donnenwirth is encouraged about the talent he is seeing so far.

Sophomore captain Haley Patsey also sees plenty of room for optimism.

“We will have a really deep bench this year,” said Patsey, a defender from Cary. “Everybody’s good.”

The 11 freshmen also performed unusually well on their first fitness tests, Donnenwirth said, and the overall caliber of the class both in soccer experience and conditioning is a testament to the program’s overall growth.

It’s not a coincidence that this is the first recruiting class to take campus visits after the state-of-the-art stadium and Olympic coaches’ building were actual operating structures, not just artist’s renderings.

“It’s just getting them here,” he said. “Once they get here, they’re pretty impressed.”

With a confident and relatively seasoned group of rookies blending with proven veterans like juniors Lexi Miller, Danielle Romano, Kelly Miller and Stephanie Seagrave, Donnenwirth knows that he has the ingredients for something special, even if he is still experimenting with the right blend. With the departure of stars like goalkeeper Christiane Cordero and defender Hali Oughton, the players on this new version of the Pirates are still battling for every position on the depth chart.

In the goal, junior Saundra Baron has the edge right now, Donnenwirth said, but players like Erika Lenns and Ally Glover are showing plenty of promise as well. In the backfield, he expects big things from Patsey, a sophomore co-captain named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team last year, and Romano. Romano is also a co-captain along with Lexi Miller, who missed more than half of the season last year with an injury but is back at full strength and has already been named to the C-USA Preseason Watch List.

The identity of the athletes in the starting roles isn’t the only unknown with the non-conference schedule opening next week. Donnenwirth also has questions about the C-USA slate, since so many of the teams are new to the conference. ECU did face UNC-Charlotte last year, but the Pirates have minimal inside information about teams like Florida International and Middle Tennessee State.

“We’re going to be facing a lot of teams that we’ve never seen before, and a lot of teams we know a little bit about,” Donnenwirth said. “It’s going to be a very good league this year, but as I said to the team, ‘This is our last chance to win this league.’ I think they’re very excited about it.”

As a team leader, Patsey has no problem with the idea of motivating her teammates to work hard or convincing them that they can develop a habit of winning this season. But so far, despite oppressive heat and an incredibly intense preseason regimen, she hasn’t really had to worry about pushing anyone.

“I think the team as a whole has really brought it,” she said. “Every time we go out to practice, even as a captain, I haven’t had to say, ‘Come on, guys, let’s go.’ It’s been easy.”

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08/14/2013 04:36 AM