All Rights Reserved.
View the Mobile Alpha version of this page.
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
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
“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
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
“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.
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.”