CHICAGO – The University of Chicago women's soccer team has made it to the NCAA Division III postseason 18 times.
Six of those appearances have come in the last six seasons, and two of them include two Final Fours and one national title game.
High expectations then, come naturally with the territory of 29-year Head Coach Amy Reifert's squad.
"Everyone connected to this program takes a great deal of pride in all that we have accomplished over the past, be it the last three seasons or the past 30 years," said Reifert, who has led the Maroons to five total NCAA Final Fours and 11 Sweet Sixteens.
"But we also remain very aware that respect must be earned on the practice pitch each and every day, from your opponents each and every game, and from the soccer 'universe' each and every season. We recognize that nothing will be given to us and that, as Chicago, we often play opponents with a great deal to prove.
"We accept that, welcome that, and always believe that the strength of the women in our program doesn't lie just in their amazing talent level, it also lies in the bonds that tie us together as a team."
After making two straight Final Fours in 2016 and 2017 – and coming one goal away from a national title in the latter – an abrupt exit in the 2018 NCAA First Round was not exactly what the Maroons were looking for to cap last season, when they finished 13-5-1 overall and fourth in the University Athletic Association.
Those tested experiences should only fuel a squad chock-full of experience with 10 starters and seven other key letter winners back in the fold in 2019.
Seniors Hanna Watkins (nine goals, three assists), Rachel Dias (four goals, five assists), and Adrianna Vera (three goals, four assists) will lead an offense that returns seven starters to the pitch. Two first-years – now sophomores – had breakout seasons in their collegiate debuts, as sophomores Nicole Willing (six goals, three assists) and Nicole Kaspi (three goals, three assists) bring back added firepower.
They'll join two equally dangerous junior attackers with starting experience in junior forward Katie Jasminski (one goal, six assists) and junior midfielder Maddie DeVoe (four goals, two assists), as a corps of players will have to fill in for the graduated Jenna McKinney, a three-time All-American who finished her four-year career with 43 goals and 107 points (second all-time).
"We will look to fourth-year Hanna Watkins to anchor our attack from the attacking midfield position and a host of first- and second-years will support her both up top and, in the midfield," Reifert said. "Adrianna Vera is a terrific target who was a huge presence last year. Our wing play was often where our attack began and we return both of our starters in Katie Jasminski and Rachel Dias, along with several first and second years. Finally, Maddie DeVoe returns as a dynamic attacking presence, and she will be a key piece to our puzzle."
Up front, sophomores Peyton Jefferson (19 games), midfielder Adriana Shutler (14 games) and Nikola Charouzova (17 games) and junior midfielder Claudia Hodgetts (18 games, four starts) should also contribute to the offense.
"Our seven seniors – all of whom have enjoyed amazing success together over the psat three seasons – provide experience, direction and leadership up and down the field, Reifert said. "As a group, they own 53 career victories, a UAA title, two Final Four appearances and equally important: powerfully define who we are as a program."
On the defensive end, the Maroons bring back veteran keeper Miranda Malone in goal. The junior started 11 games and played in all 19 a year ago, leading the squad with 32 saves to go along with an 9-2-1 record.
Suter will anchor the back line (she started every contest but one in 2018) and sophomore Rachael Hutson (19 starts) return to give the Maroons two defenders with plenty of minutes under their belts, while Charlotte Waechter (junior, 12 games), Austen Dellinger (sophomore, 12 games), and Casey Jervier (junior, 18 games) also aid in defensive experience.
Reifert brings in a class of six talented first-years, all whom she expects to find roles early. They include twin sisters Annie (midfielder) and Ruthie (defender) Mitchell of Davis, Calif.; forward Skye Davis of Marina Del Ray, Calif.; defender Mary Kate Hansen of Naperville, Ill.; midfielder Lydia Cornelius of Columbus, Ohio; and midfielder Bella Mahoney of Oakland, Calif.
"Every year, our incoming class ranks among the best in DIII, and this year is no exception," Reifert said. "They are dynamic, attack minded and very technical. They will elevate our trainings as well as our game, contributing to making our team better in a great many ways on and off the field."
The 2019 season opens with a road contest at Milwaukee School of Engineering Aug. 31 before the Maroons – receiving votes in the United Soccer Coaches Preseason Poll – host two at home Stagg Field: Pomona-Pitzer on Sept. 7 and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Sept. 8.
Other nonconference games include at #15 Hope (Sept. 11); Illinois Wesleyan (Sept. 14); at North Central (Sept. 17); Kalamazoo (Sept. 21); #9 Wheaton (Sept. 24); at Calvin (Sept. 28); Carthage (Oct. 8), and at Illinois Tech (Oct. 24).
The ever-competitive seven-game UAA schedule is bookended with two home games: opening against Emory Oct. 5 and ending with rival and preseason-ranked No. 3 Washington-St. Louis on Nov. 9.
Different this year, though, is the trip the Maroons have taken every four years since 1999: the team's August preseason foreign trip to Italy. This year's 10-day excursion featured three exhibition contests and unforgettable experiences in the cities and regions of Florence, Rome, Cinque Terre, and Capri.
"The soccer experience is tremendous, the cultural exposure unmatched, and most importantly, the team-bonding and relationship-building is without match," Reifert said. "If you look at past history, years when we travel to Italy for preseason always prove to lead to special autumns, and a lot of that has to do with the team that is built in the hills of Rome."