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WCCountdown: Zags Begin New Era Under Edwards

Aug. 19, 2009

A new era is set to begin for the Gonzaga University women's soccer program in 2009 as new head coach Amy Edwards embarks on her first season for the Bulldogs. Coming off of a season that saw the Zags play in a school-record six overtime matches, this year's squad is made up of three All-West Coast Conference performers and 10 players that made at least 13 starts last season.

"Many of our young players that gained a lot of experience last season will really contribute this season," said Edwards. "Although some of them are only sophomores, a majority of them played a lot of minutes last year which gives us a great amount of depth this season."

This year's team will look to use its depth at the forward and midfield lines to take some chances on the offensive attack. Edwards brings with her an offensive attacking mindset from her time at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Missouri that will provide the Bulldogs with a new look in 2009.

"This season we will be looking to create some opportunities on the offensive end and pressure our opponents into making mistakes," stated Edwards. "We have a good amount of depth up front that we will use to pressure teams on the offensive end. Putting pressure on the opponent is something we need to do in order to be successful in the WCC, one of the toughest conferences in the country."

Leading the Bulldogs on front line will be 2008 All-WCC honorable mention and All-Freshman team selection Courtney Peacock who returns for her sophomore season after finishing last season tied for the team high with three goals. Also returning to the front line are fellow sophomores Emma Dolcetti and Sarah Rhodes. Like Peacock, Rhodes will also be looking to build off a solid freshman campaign in which tied for the team lead in goals with three.

"Courtney proved last season she can be a scorer in this conference and that is what we are looking for her to do again this season," said Edwards. "She is coming off of a leg injury she suffered last spring but has had a solid preseason. We are planning on her having another good year for us. Emma has shown an incredible work ethic this past spring and summer. She continues to get better on both sides of the ball and has really taken her game to the next level. Sarah is another player that had a solid summer and has shown the ability to score goals in the preseason."

Another player that will be a major contributor to the front line will be junior Ashley Riley who recorded two goals last season and brings some speed to the Zags offensive attack.

"Ashley had a solid spring season for us and went on and had an even better summer season playing for the Seattle Sounders, she really elevated her game this summer," stated Edwards. "Ashley is another one of our outstanding athletes that will play a number of attacking positions this season."

Several newcomers providing depth at forward will be Emily Hutchins and Kelsey Werre. Hutchins and Werre are two talented players who will get an opportunity to make immediate contributions in their freshman seasons.

"We are very excited about this group of newcomers," commented Edwards. "Emily brings great energy and is a very athletic player. Kelsey has come in and shown she has no fear and is ready to play at this level."

Led by 2008 All-WCC honorable mention selection senior Lori Conrad and 2008 All-WCC first team selection junior Sheridan Jones the Bulldogs midfield will be a vital piece of the team's success this season. Conrad returns for her final season as a Zag after starting all 20 matches last season and being one of the leaders on the back line. Jones is coming off her most productive season at Gonzaga, finishing last year with team-highs in points (10) and assists (4) and tied for the team lead with three goals.

"Lori and Sheridan are two of the top players in the conference and make us very strong in the midfield," stated Edwards. "Lori is very athletic and a relentless defender we will look to be a leader both on and off the field. Sheridan is another leader that plays with great passion. She is a very composed player who proved last season she is one of the top play makers in the conference and we will look to her to lead us this season."

The Bulldogs will look to Lori Conrad for leadership on and off the field this season.

The midfield will also have a large amount of depth because of the abilities of a number of the Bulldogs that can play multiple positions. Senior Christi D'Agostino returns to the midfield after finishing 2008 with two goals and five points while fellow senior Taylor Hall started all but one match in the midfield last season."Christi and Taylor are two veterans that have the ability to serve a variety of different roles for us this season," commented Edwards. "They will both provide us great depth at a couple different positions."

Newcomers in senior Kate Taylor and freshman Anna Lund will also see a good number of minutes at the midfield. Taylor returns to the pitch two years after playing her freshman and sophomore seasons for the Air Force Academy where she was among the leaders in goals and shots taken. Lund is a top prospect out of British Columbia that will see time either in the midfield or the back line.

"Kat is one of our most technical players that has experience from her time at Air Force and will provide some veteran depth for us up front and in the midfield," said Edwards. "Anna is another young player that has shown no fear in her first couple of weeks of preseason training. She is very athletic and plays well on both sides of the ball."

Other returners in redshirt junior Jessie Sorenson, junior Caitlyn Salo and sophomore Katie Spangenberg will also contribute for the Zags in 2009.

"Jessie is one of our quicker players and is able to push the ball up the field while Salo is a tremendous worker on both sides of the ball and can play either as a forward or midfielder," said Edwards. "Katie will have an opportunity to play quite a few minutes for us this season after really improving over the summer. She has come into this season in great shape and also has shown the ability to play more than one position."

Sophomores Casey Gould and Corey Protzman will both provide depth at the midfield and defensive lines. Freshmen Stevie Hamilton and Megan Scanlon are two newcomers that will have opportunities to earn minutes playing on the back line in their first collegiate season.

The line in front of the keepers returns a couple of veterans that have helped the Zags post a combined 16 shutouts the past two seasons with either Lauren Ames or Jessie Thalman in goal. Junior Catherine Cullen (15 starts) and sophomore Ashley Railey (18 starts) both return after anchoring the back line for the Zags last season.

"We feel very good about the players we have returning to the back line this season. We will have a number of players that can step in and play solid defense for us this season," commented Edwards. "Catherine had a solid spring and has developed into a leader on the back line for us. We will look to Ashley to also be one of the anchors in the back line after she gained a lot of experience after appearing in every match last season.

Making her return to the back line this season will be redshirt sophomore Elle Sweeney who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Sweeney was set to start for the Zags last season after making 18 appearances during her freshman campaign in 2007 prior to suffering her injury. Set to join Sweeney on the back line is freshman Morgan Manchester, who is a local product out of East Valley high school in Spokane Valley.

"Elle had a great summer playing for the very impressive Real Colorado summer club team and will bring great athleticism, organization and intensity to the back line," state Edwards. "Morgan is very composed and has adapted very well to the speed of play at this level."

The Bulldogs will have the most depth at goalkeeper as seniors Thalman and Amy Danielson will compete with junior Ames for the starting job. Ames has started in goal the past year and half but Thalman and Danielson have both had solid spring and summer seasons and will push Ames this season.

"Each one of our keepers brings something different to the team," said Edwards. "Jessie is a very smart veteran player that can add an offensive threat with her distribution abilities. Amy is a physically imposing keeper that has incredible shot stopping abilities. Lauren owns a very solid set of technical skills and has developed into one of the elite keepers in the WCC."

This year's schedule will surely test the Zags, as they are slated to match up with six teams that made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament a year ago along with playing four of its seven WCC matches on the road in 2009.

The Bulldogs open the season with a three-match homestand at the Gonzaga Soccer Field, hosting the University of Montana Aug. 23, McNeese State University Aug. 28 and 2009 NCAA Tournament participant and in-state rival Washington State University Sept. 3.

"Opening the season with those three home matches gives us a chance to develop some team chemistry early in the season and also play in front of a home crowd at one of the best fields on the west coast in the Gonzaga Soccer Stadium," said Edwards.Following a matchup at Eastern Washington University Sept. 6 the Zags will head to southern California to face two of the top teams in the country. On Sept. 11 Gonzaga will face 2007 National Champion and 2008 NCAA Tournament third round participant University of Southern California followed by a match up with 2008 NCAA Tournament College Cup semifinalist UCLA Sept. 13.

"The two matches in Los Angeles against two of the premiere soccer programs in the country in USC and UCLA will provide great challenges for us but both matches will also prepare our young group of players for tough WCC matches later in the season," commented Edwards.

In late September the Bulldogs will host the University of Idaho before playing their next seven matches on the road beginning with the Cowgirl Classic hosted by the University of Wyoming in Laramie. Sept 25-27. There the Zags will first match up with Wyoming and then close out tournament play against Boise State University.

The first weekend of October will see Gonzaga head to Seattle to face 2008 NCAA Tournament second round participant University of Washington Oct. 2 and to Portland for an Oct. 4 matchup with Portland State University.

The Bulldogs return to Portland a week later to open WCC play at reigning conference champion and 2008 NCAA Tournament quarterfinalist University of Portland Oct. 11. GU continues conference play with two more road matches at Loyola Marymount University Oct. 16 and Pepperdine University Oct. 18.

In the late October the Zags return to Spokane for WCC matches against the University of San Francisco Oct. 23 and Saint Mary's College Oct. 25. Following the final regular-season road trip that sees the Bulldogs face 2008 NCAA Tournament participant University of San Diego Oct. 30 and the University of California - Irvine out of the Big West Conference Nov. 1 the Zags host Santa Clara University for the regular-season finale Nov. 7.

"We are very excited to get out and compete against some of the top programs in the country this season," said Edwards. "This year's non-conference schedule certainly provides some tough challenges for us as those matches will prepare us for WCC play that will once again be one of the top soccer conferences in the country."

With a number of impact players returning from last year's squad and after producing solid spring and summer seasons the Bulldogs have Edwards anxiously awaiting the arrival of her first season at GU.

"We have had some tremendous spring and preseason training sessions," stated Edwards. "This group of players has continued to improve with every practice and if we can carry over this momentum that we have created then 2009 will be an exciting season."