2017 UChicago Women's Soccer Preview

2017 UChicago Women's Soccer Preview

CHICAGO Sixteen times the University of Chicago women's soccer team has reached the NCAA Division III national tournament. 
    
Amy Reifert, now in her 27th season as head coach of the Maroons' storied program, has been a part of every one of them. She, though, like a squad that returns its core after a 2016 run to the NCAA Final Four, isn't quite satisfied. 
    
"Our ultimate goal is to win the national championship and that has not happened yet," Refiert said. "The players are motivated by one thing — having the most meaningful journey with the greatest group of teammates to accomplish this goal." 
    
2016 RECAP 
Last season, the Maroons came just one game away from a spot in the title game, the first time UChicago had reached that stage since the 2005 season. Entering the 2016 NCAA national field with a No. 11 ranking and a third-place finish in the University Athletic Association, UChicago wasn't favored to make a deep run. But the Maroons out-did their ranking and first knocked off Webster (6-0) and Augsburg (2-0) in convincing fashion in the first two rounds, followed by a 3-1 decision over Thomas More in the Round of 16. 
    
Then, in an NCAA thriller, then-freshman Hanna Watkins scored a goal in the 88th minute to tie the game with Pomona-Pitzer that would result in a penalty-kick advancement into the Maroons' third-ever trip to the Final Four. Messiah would end the run in an overtime heartbreaker, 1-0. UChicago (18-4-1 overall) finished as the No. 3 team in the final poll, the same spot they enter 2017 with the release of the United Soccer Coaches (formerly NSCAA) Preseason Poll. 
    
Notable feats for UChicago in 2016 included tying the school record for wins (18), shutouts (14) and goals against average (0.43) and Reifert and her staff were selected as the UAA and NSCAA Central Region Coaching Staff of the Year. 
    
KEY PLAYERS 
What makes 2017 exciting for UChicago is, in Reifert's words, returning its "nucleus." 
    
Back are NSCAA All-American midfielders Jenna McKinney (First Team, 14 goals, eight assists) and Mia Calamari (Third Team, eight goals, 12 assists). Two more all-region selections, sophomore goal keeper Katie Donovan (0.45 goals against average, 79 saves) and junior mid Kelsey Moore (four goals, one assist) also return with expectations to do great things on both sides of the ball. 
    
Watkins (six goals, five assists), the hero in the NCAA quarterfinal, is back for her sophomore season in the midfield, joining Madori Spiker (six goals, three assists), Caroline Olivero on the offense while experienced defenders Mackenzie Peebles, Sydney Mathis, Whitley Cargile and Clare Suter return to make a formidable formation on the pitch. 
    
Add in nine incoming freshmen who will be battling for time on the field, and Reifert feels good about the level of play UChicago will bring after four-straight trips to the NCAA tournament. 
    
"The strength of our team will be experience, motivation, and who we are as a group," Reifert said. "We return a very talented offensive group that scored 62 goals and most of our back line that only gave up 10.
    
"… We are most excited about our depth, which this year will be among the best we've ever had." 
    
LOOKING AHEAD
The Maroons open 2017 on the West Coast, traveling to California to take on Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Sept.1) and then a very familiar foe, last year's quarterfinal opponent and No. 10 Pomona-Pitzer, just two days later on Sept. 3. 
    
The squad's home opener is set with Concordia (Wis.) Sept. 6 at Stagg Field, before the Maroons play six more nonconference opponents leading up to the UAA opener Sept. 30 at Rochester (N.Y.). The schedule features four contests against ranked opponents in Brandeis (No. 6), Pomona-Pitzer (No. 10), Carnegie Mellon (No. 22), and last year's champion, No. 1 Washington University at St. Louis. 
    
UChicago will host Bears, who won last year's meeting, 1-0 in overtime, in the Maroons' regular-season finale Nov. 4. 
    
NCAA VETERANS
The Maroons' senior class — Moore, Olivero, Cargile, Spiker and Calamari — have reached the NCAA tournament every year they've put on a UChicago uniform. That experience is what Reifert hopes can put the team back in the title game, a feat the team last accomplished with its runner-up finish in 2003. 
    
"We are so excited about the challenge that this season brings and our journey to be the best team, the best teammates, and the best program," Reifert said. 
    
"For us, it will be focusing on the little pieces that are critical to our success and looking to the end of the season and having the opportunity to achieve our goals. Leadership and the role that our fourth-years will play in guiding, mentoring, and leading this team will be the foundation of our success. 
    
"This group knows what it takes to reach our potential and has had great mentorship from the classes that came before them. On the field, they have all played critical roles in our success and will bring that experience, determination and talent every day to training and games."