After ending the season last year with a double-overtime loss to Florida Atlantic in the Conference USA tournament semifinals, Charlotte's women's soccer team is looking to hit the ground running following the extended offseason.
Charlotte was ranked second in Conference USA East Division behind Florida Atlantic in the preseason poll.
Head Coach John Cullen and his team will open up the season against Western Carolina on Wednesday, Feb. 17. It will be the first time in 468 days the teams has taken the field. The extended offseason time has affected the season's preparation for the better with all the new players this year.
"It's been hugely beneficial because we have 13 freshmen," said Coach Cullen. "[It's helpful to be] able to give these young kids college training experience."
Game Plan for the Season
Having this extra time to prepare for the season has given the team a rare chance to adopt 3 or 4 different formations, sometimes featuring three or four players in the back.
Cullen said they did this so they could "try to use the ideal formation for the best matchup for who they are playing."
Cullen said, "a good team is well balanced," but he said, "we have goal scorers."
He expects to have the team scoring from multiple points of the field. He went on to say, "to be a successful team, you have to have that unpredictability."
The 49ers' new look will have 13 new players added to the team this season, which makes up about 50% of the total roster. This increase in team members is mostly due to the absence of Jamie Fankhauser, Riley Orr, Julia Grandia but most importantly, Megan Greene. She was one of Charlotte's best players in team history. Greene led the team in goals and points the past two seasons, so replacing her will be crucial to the team's success.
"You try not to put any extra pressure on them," said Cullen of the newer players.
However, Cullen still wants them to adapt in order to get off to a good start this season. Nevertheless, Coach Cullen expects a lot of the newcomers to get plenty of playing time this season.
"When you lose so many players, you are going to need a lot of those (newcomers) to step on the field and contribute quickly," said Cullen.
Challenges during a pandemic season
Charlotte's exhibition game scheduled on Jan. 27 against Davidson was canceled, which would have been the team's first competitive game in over a year. Coach Cullen said, "it's been a bit of disruption," and said, "we would have liked to get an exhibition game in" because that is the time you can experiment and truly figure out what you have on your team.
Since the team is starting right into the regular season, Cullen said, "you get less time to experiment … it is more about results."
Another challenge the team will face is starting the season on the road. Cullen and the squad see this as a good experience, he said, because "In order to be a successful program, you've got to be able to go on the road and beat teams."
Charlotte's road schedule includes a matchup against FAU, who Charlotte lost to last season. With the team's desires the conference tournament, the more road experience you have, the more successful you will be in the tournament hosted by Rice this season in Houston, Texas.
Expectations for the Season
The team is very young this season. Noting the difficulties the COVID-19 pandemic has provided, the team will need everyone ready and contributing.
He said he expects the upperclassmen Meredith Hamby, Abby Stapleton, Brianna Morris, Sophie Sipprell, & Kate Hickson to provide the much needed veteran presence and experience in big games to the young team.
He also expects Sophomores Julia Patrum & Kristy Campbel to build upon their Freshman success. Patrum made it to the Preseason-All Conference USA team heading into her sophomore season. He hopes to see the Junior class also step up & take a veteran leadership role with the squad.
The coach's preseason poll projects the 49ers to finish the season in second place in Conference USA East Division.
"It's just about how we perceive ourselves is the most important thing," said Cullen.
"Our expectation is we can always compete for titles. Regardless of how young we are, or whatever injuries we have to overcome, or how many seniors graduated, that every year we are capable of competing for conference titles," said Cullen.
"[We] are never are looking at rebuilding; we just hopefully feel we are reloading," said Cullen.