SPORTS

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September 30, 2005

Women's 13 fourth-years have eyes on title

Every team lays out a variety of goals each season, ranging from individual accolades to team accomplishments like a league title or a playoff appearance.

The 13 fourth-years of the eighth-ranked women's soccer team, however, have set only one bar—and it's as high as it goes.

This gang of 13 has already solidified its place in the history books in its three-plus seasons. It has led the most successful Maroons program in recent memory, having gone 52-10-8, made the playoffs three years running, held the nation's top poll ranking, and finished as the 2003 Division III runner-up. With three All-Americans and a host of supremely talented supporting players, this class features the best collection of individual talent to ever come through the Maroons' soccer pipeline.

Since a 3-0 loss to eventual national champion Wheaton (IL) ended last year's injury-plagued effort, women's soccer has viewed 2005 as a go-for-it-all season.

"The difference is leadership, and that for these players, this is it," head coach Amy Reifert said. "The sense of urgency and purpose about them in practice and games is dramatically different. We're playing for these kids."

After a 2-1 loss to then sixth-ranked Ohio Wesleyan knocked them out of the national rankings, the Maroons have come on with a vengeance, going 5-0-1 and a perfect four-for-four against Top-25 teams.

Though Chicago has showed it can pull out the big wins, the team expects more.

"We're dominating games, but we're not creating the chances," said Reifert, referring to the lack of goal scoring so far. The Maroons have often completely controlled the midfield but are looking to improve their opportunities in the last 12 yards as they begin their conference schedule.

To the surprise of few, forward Renee Neuner has again been the key offensive charge, showing off her supreme finishing and technical skill early on. Chicago's career scoring leader after just two seasons, her four goals this year give her 64 in 66 games.

Neuner's classmate midfielder Jacqui De Leon has been one of her most frequent helpers and one of the team's most consistent two-way presences. Though she continues to adjust to being in the middle of a new 4-3-3 formation—which may or may not last the season—De Leon quarterbacks the team as well as anyone.

Keeper Andrea Przybysz—the program's career shutouts leader (27)—has been as dependable as any Maroon in her time here. She once again demonstrated how critical she is in September 20's 2-1 win over Wheaton, single-handedly holding off the defending champs with an incredible nine-save performance.

The defensive quartet of Elise Aiken, Diana Connett, Ellen Fitzgerald, and Kay Saul get the least attention because of their positions, but perhaps deserve the most. Connett's aggressive and fast defense solidify the flat back four, while Aiken uses her height to stop attackers from dribbling by her. Saul and Fitzgerald patrol the sides, each clearing balls well out of the back. Saul's tackling and Fitzgerald's hustle are both part of their individual physical styles, absolutely shutting down opposing offenses.

Most of all, this team has depth, with the remaining six fourth-years accumulating 26 goals and 25 assists in 70 team games. With midfielder Monica Michelotti scheduled to return from hip surgery in October, the entire senior class will be active for UAA matches.

Having gotten a taste of the ultimate prize once before, this team is hungry and has the talent and the determination to win it all.