Last year’s Butler women’s soccer team entered the season as an unknown. The Bulldogs started as many as eight freshmen and the team got off to a slow start. With patience, the young team soon found its stride, going 6-2-0 in Horizon League play and capturing a share of the league title.
Five players earned all-league recognition and head coach Tari St. John was voted Horizon League Coach of the Year. The Bulldogs hosted the league tournament and advanced to the championship match. Now, with another year of experience, Butler is fielding a young 2011 squad with high expectations and NCAA Tournament aspirations.
“We talked a lot last year about being a young team with all these freshmen. But although they’re still relatively young, I don’t think that can be the claim anymore,” St. John said. “We have some experience and we know what it takes to win a conference championship. I have a higher expectation for this team and I think the girls will tell you the same.”
Ten of the team’s top 11 (and 85 percent of the total scoring) scorers from last year return. Eight starters are back and they join a talented group of freshmen that have placed the Bulldogs among the Horizon League’s favorites in the women’s soccer race.
“This is the most talented team I’ve had as a college coach,” St. John said. “They are competitive with one another but also have the understanding that is going to make them better. There is a real sense of drive with this team. They want to reach their goals: winning the conference and getting to postseason play.
“No Butler team has done it, and I think it’s a realistic goal.”
PAIR OF GOALKEEPERS BATTLING FOR TIME
The Bulldogs don’t have much experience at goalkeeper, as last year’s starter Olivia Walter graduated. However, there are two good players competing for time in the net.
Sophomore Julie Burton played 195 minutes last year as a freshman and has one career start to her name. But St. John says the sophomore from Indianapolis is strong technically and has a big leg.
“Julie trains very well and has a very good understanding of the position. She had a great (exhibition) game against Kansas. Her ability on goal kicks and punts will really help us because it will give our defense a chance to set up and get organized. She gives us the ability to get out of pressure.”
The other goalkeeper is the team’s lone senior, Natalie Galovska. The Indianapolis native was a starter in the field in 2009 and sat out last season due to injury. She continues to battle leg injuries, but moved to goalkeeper for the good of the team. Galovska has put in the work to be successful in goal, which was necessary because she hasn’t played the position since she was 12 years old.
“Natalie has done quite well,” St. John said. “She put a lot of work in during the summer to work on her technique.
“Having the two goalkeepers compete has made both Julie and Natalie better,” St. John added. “They’re going to battle it out. I’m really not sure who is going to be the starter right now. Both have done some really good things.”
YOUNG DEFENDERS HAVE LEARNED TO WORK TOGETHER
The Bulldog back line is going to be extremely important this season, having to replace All-Horizon League graduate Sarah Phelps as well as Cara Burchett, who was a key player last season. On defense, St. John has a host of improving returning players as well as a pair of freshmen who should help right away.
“You cannot expect one player to replace an experienced senior center back like Phelps. A single player can’t make up for that,” St. John said. “What we have is a very good back line that will work well together.”
Junior Claire Milam, who buried the overtime game-winner at Kansas, will be join sophomore Ali Backscheider in the back. Both played in all 20 matches last season, with Backscheider starting 13 times.
“I can’t say enough about Claire Milam," St. John said. "She went from not playing as a freshman to playing regularly as a reserve as a sophomore and then she started our two exhibitions. She’s done a great job.
“As a sophomore, Ali is probably our most experienced back. But for how young this group is, they were impressive in our two exhibitions.”
St. John also mentioned sophomores Jackie Hafele and Anna Ventimiglia as players who could play in back if need be. Hafele and Ventimiglia were starters last season as freshmen, and Hafele was the Horizon League Newcomer of the Year and an all-league honoree.
“This group has a really good team concept, meaning they’ll play anywhere they can help the team,” St. John said. “We have some starters from last year that will move around and play whatever spot because they’re that talented and they want to do what’s best for the team.”
Freshmen Kelly Mahoney and Stephanie Kaylor have also impressed during there first month on campus at Butler, and sophomore Colleen Gorkis also returns.
“We have a couple of freshmen in Kelly Mahoney and Stephanie Kaylor who have proven they can play,” St. John said. “Both got time in our exhibitions and not only held their own but were impact players. “
A ‘FUN’ MIDFIELD
Never before has Butler been able to boast the kind of midfield depth it will have in 2011. Three All-Horizon League players will see time in the middle, and the Bulldogs have enough size and speed to defend and also create offensively.
The group is highlighted by the return of sophomores Olivia Colosimo and Nikki Hafele. Both were starters in 2010 and earned Horizon League All-Newcomer Team status. Colosimo and Nikki Hafele each had successful offseasons, with Colosimo competing in Brazil with U-20 Team Canada and Nikki Hafele’s Mockingbird Valley club team advancing deep into the regional tournament.
“Colosimo is one of our top players, but she didn’t play a minute at Kansas. It tells you that you what great depth we have,” St. John said. “It’s fun not to have to worry about losing a top player, and that we can still go get a win against a Big 12 team.”
On Nikki Hafele, who played the most minutes on the team last year, St. John added: “She’s a player who had a lot of upside as a freshman and now she’s understanding the game at a higher level. She’s going to do some special things in the midfield.”
Nikki’s twin sister Jackie Hafele, who had a team-high five assists last year, will also be able to play in the midfield. “She has a skill set that allows her to play anywhere on the field. She is very talented and will be able to help us in different spots."
Ventimiglia will also see midfield minutes, joining juniors Rachael Melendez and Rachel Scott and sophomore twins Mary and Molly Allen. Melendez scored nine points last year and is a proven threat and creative player, while Mary Allen started 15 matches last year. Junior Kelly Grott and sophomore Rachel Sklarski also return.
The one freshman to watch in the midfield is Laura Luther. The Ellettsville, Ind., native played 12 minutes in the exhibition at Kansas, and St. John said they were “very important minutes for us.”
“Laura will run through a brick wall for you. She really works and can come in for one of our starters and cause problems for the other team,” St. John said.
IT’S NOT JUST GRISWOLD UP TOP
First team All-Horizon League junior Katie Griswold returns after leading the team in goals in each of her first two seasons. She had 20 points (9g-2a) last season and is one of the top scorers in the league. But it’s not just Griswold running up top for the Bulldogs, as a talented group of freshmen will be able to contribute and open up even more offensive chances for BU.
“Katie’s been on every scouting report and she’s constantly double-teamed. The conference coaches know her so well,” St. John said. “With some of the additions we’ve made, teams will have a tough time keying just on Katie Griswold. It should open things up more.”
Four freshmen will join the forward corps. Lucy Chauvin, Anna Zerfas and Elise Kotsakis each played significant minutes at Kansas, with Chauvin and Kotsakis each scoring a goal. Along with fellow freshman Caroline Kowal, St. John is high on the young group of forwards.
“Lucy plays with great pace and she finds ways to score,” the coach said. “She is always working to get on the ends of things. Anna is a smart player with a great willingness to work. She’s willing to make the run that can open up something for a teammate.
“Elise is very comfortable with the ball at her feet and she can handle pressure. She reads the game very well and her vision is good.”