Aug. 16, 2011
DEKALB, Ill. - With the NCAA Division I women's soccer season starting this week, the Northern Illinois squad is looking forward to its possibilities this season. With 19 letterwinners and seven starters returning to the pitch from a team that finished 9-9-1 a year ago, the Huskies will again be in the hunt for a Mid-American Conference Championship berth and will hope to build on a sixth-place finish a year ago.
Though the schedule is the toughest that Huskies have played in years according to Head Coach Carrie Barker, NIU has 11 contests at home in their 18 match schedule. Last season the team was 7-1-1 at the NIU Soccer and Track & Field Complex, including a perfect 5-0-0 mark against MAC competition. The schedule features two NCAA Tournament participants in Wisconsin (Sept. 8) and Central Michigan (Oct. 16).
"We're really excited about the schedule we've put together this year," said Head Coach Carrie Barker, now in her fourth year, "We're playing teams from six different conferences around the country. We're looking forward to seeing how we compete against these teams."
Barker, now in her fourth year at Northern Illinois, has led the Huskies to a 23-26-9 record in her three previous seasons, leading NIU to the MAC Championship twice in the last three years.
In the attacking third senior midfielder Kelsey Passaglia, NIU's leader in scoring the past two seasons, will again be one of the aces in the front. In 2010, the Cary, Ill., native scored a well-rounded 11 points with four goals and three assists. Passaglia tied for the team lead in scoring her sophomore year with three goals and an assist.
Also from the midfield, junior Shelbi Johnson returns after a three goal, two assists (eight points) season in 2010. Johnson takes corner kicks for Northern Illinois and is a distributor for the team. In the Huskies lone preseason contest Aug. 14 at Milwaukee, the native of Bolingbrook, Ill., registered an assist from the corner flag after a finished header by sophomore Corrine Frankenburg.
Though Passaglia has been the leading scorer the last two seasons, the offensive depth on the roster has been aplenty for the Huskies. Last season, 13-of-23 players that made appearances, registered at least a goal or an assist in a match.
"One of our biggest strengths offensively is having to rely on so many different players, not just one or two. I'm going to rely on many players to help us out, especially our seniors" said Barker.
Defensively the Huskies lose a big piece of the puzzle from last year's team in Mo Smunt, an All-MAC defender last year. Though Smunt has graduated, there are still returners who will be in the mix to start this season in the backline, along with some incoming freshman to push the veterans. Those in the mix are sophomore Kayra Thompson and juniors Lauren Eberts and Nici Newquist. Thompson made nine starts in 2010, recording one goal, while Eberts and Newquist started all 19 contests.
"Defense has always been a strength of our team and I hope that continues this season. We have some younger personal but once we get some games under our belt, we'll definitely be stronger defensively as a unit."
At goalkeeper, sophomore Amy Carr and senior captain Meaghan Bennett are in the mix for the starting position. Carr started 19 matches for the Huskies last season and posted the second-lowest goals against average ever by a freshman at NIU (1.28) and recorded seven shutouts with a 9-9-1 record. Bennett made three appearances last season and is a vocal leader of the team.
On Aug. 15, the Mid-American Conference released its preseason coaches' poll and the Huskies were picked to finish fifth in the West Division, receiving a total of 21 points from the voting coaches in the conference.
NIU will open its season Aug. 21 with a contest at Iowa State. The match will begin at noon, with Live Stats available at www.Cyclones.com. For more updates, be sure to follow the soccer team on Facebook.