VIRGINIA BEACH -- Virginia Wesleyan College's 30th season of intercollegiate women's soccer will begin somewhere between difficult and more difficult.
Fourteenth-year head coach Jeff Bowers (202-51-28) will send his Marlins into stiff competition from the start as six of VWC's first six matches will be against non-conference foes that produced a combined 62-28-12 record in 2012.
If there's a break for the Marlins, who finished 18-2-1 last season, it is in the fact that the first two games will be played at the friendly confines of the Trinder Center. VWC will open the season on Saturday, Aug. 31 and Sunday, Sept. 1, hosting its own invitational that will include Christopher Newport University (CNU), North Carolina's Meredith College and the State University of New York at Fredonia.
The Marlins take on Meredith's Avenging Angels in the opening game on Foster Field at 1 p.m. on Saturday, facing the team from Raleigh for only the second time. VWC won the first game 3-0 in 2007. Last season Meredith compiled a 13-7 record, including an 8-3 mark in the USA South Athletic Conference (USASAC), led in part by Jessie Davis (Fuquay-Varina, N.C./Fuquay-Varina) who scored a team-leading 11 goals and nine assists. She returns this season, along with three more of the Angels' top four scorers and goalkeeper Kelsey Hopper (Wilmington, N.C./Ashley), who owns the Meredith career record for saves (207).
VWC continues play on Sunday at 2 p.m., entertaining the Blue Devils of Fredonia, members of the tough State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC). Katie Kleine (Cazenovia, N.Y./Cazenovia) and Kristi Putzig (Williamsville, N.Y./North), two of the top three scorers from a 12-4-4 team in 2012, return. Kleine, a first team All-SUNYAC and second team All-East Region honoree, led the way with nine goals and seven assists. Putzig, a third team All-SUNYAC performer, added seven goals and three assists. VWC and Fredonia meet for the first time ever.
CNU will also face both teams in the Marlins' tournament before hosting it's own tournament the following the weekend. The Marlins will travel to Newport News to take on New Jersey's Kean University on Saturday, Sept. 7, and Ohio's Baldwin-Wallace College on Sunday, Sept. 8. Both games have 1 p.m. starts.
VWC defeated Kean 1-0 in 2011, but the Cougars own a 3-2 advantage in the short series that started in 1991. Kean produced a 13-5-4 record last year and finished as the runner-up in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC), but went on to win the Metro championship of the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC). This year's team will rely on the defensive play of goalie Samantha Blair (Freehold, N.J./Freehold Township), who posted a 1.14 goals against average and an .811 saves percentage last fall.
Steady defense will also be key for Baldwin-Wallace, which faces VWC for only the second time. The Marlins won 2-0 in 2009. All-Ohio, All-Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC), and All-Great Lakes region defender Elizabeth Helser (Fort Wayne, Ind./Canterbury) is back to lead the "D," which will include goalie Emily Tallmadge (Fairview, Pa./Fairview). She led the OAC in goals against average (0.61) and saves percentage (.855), helping the Yellow Jackets to post 10 shutouts during the season. B-W allowed only 16 goals.
Virginia Wesleyan returns to the Trinder Center for a Wednesday, Sept. 11 game, against CNU's Captains, renewing the Hampton Roads series for the 19th time. VWC leads that series 12-4-2. The Marlins will face a CNU team led by first team All-Virginia and all-conference honoree Emma O'Reilly (Springfield/South County), who led the Captains with 18 goals. CNU, which finished 12-9 in 2012, will also feature defender Alexis Stahlman (Fredericksburg/Riverbend), an second team All-Virginia honoree.
VWC's final non-conference foe of the regular season will be Salisbury University on Wednesday, Sep. 18. The SeaGulls will host the Marlins for a 4 p.m. start in the 17th game of the series that VWC leads 8-5-3. The Marlins have won the last three in a row, all one-goal decisions. First team All-Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) honoree Michelle Conrad (Smithtown, N.Y./East) will help lead the Gulls, along with second team All-CAC defender Tabitha Brown (Bethany, Conn./Amity Regional). Conrad posted a 0.70 goals against average last year and an .843 saves percentage as SU finished 11-5-2 overall and 5-1 in the CAC.
In addition to the non-conference slate, the Marlins will battle in the always-tough Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC), with the league opener set for Saturday, Sept. 14 at Hollins University. VWC's home conference slate will include dates with perennial power Washington and Lee University on Saturday, Sept. 28 at 6 p.m., with Bridgewater College, the team that eliminated VWC from last year's ODAC tournament, on Saturday Oct. 5 at 5 p.m., and Randolph-Macon College on Tuesday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m.
The 2013 schedule is as follows:
|31||MEREDITH COLLEGE (N.C.)#||1 p.m.|
|1||STATE UNIVERISTY OF NEW YORK- FREDONIA#||2 p.m.|
|7||vs. Kean University (N.J.)^||1 p.m.|
|8||vs. Baldwin-Wallace College (Ohio)^||1 p.m.|
|11||CHRISTOPHER NEWPORT UNIVERSITY||7:30 p.m.|
|14||at Hollins University*||3 p.m.|
|18||at Salisbury University (Md.)||4 p.m.|
|21||at Guilford College* (N.C.)||11 a.m.|
|24||RANDOLPH COLLEGE*||6 p.m.|
|28||WASHINGTON AND LEE UNIVERSITY*||6 p.m.|
|1||at Lynchburg College*||6 p.m.|
|5||BRIDGEWATER COLLEGE*||5 p.m.|
|12||at Roanoke College*||1 p.m.|
|15||RANDOLPH-MACON COLLEGE*||7 p.m.|
|18||at Shenandoah University*||7 p.m.|
|22||at Eastern Mennonite University*||7 p.m.|
|26||EMORY & HENRY COLLEGE*||1 p.m.|
|29||SWEET BRIAR COLLEGE*||4 p.m.|
|#Orthopaedic Associates of Virginia Classic|
|^Christopher Newport Invitational|
|*Old Dominion Athletic Conference|