VILLANOVA, Pa. - As the Villanova women's soccer team sets their sights on the beginning of the 2014 season this Friday, they'll have a new place to call home in the renovated Higgins Soccer Complex alongside a new coaching staff in the December hiring of head coach Fran Kulas. A fresh start for the Wildcats awaits the team when they host the Drexel Dragons on August 22nd at 4:30pm as the contest will mark the first match in the new facility. As Villanova opens their 32nd year of competition, there is plenty of excitement that awaits the Villanova squad as they prep for a successful year against some of the toughest competition in the nation and in the BIG EAST.
In 2013, the Wildcats returned to post-season play for the second-straight season when they made the first round of the BIG EAST Championship following a three-year absence. Despite falling to the DePaul Blue Demons for the second time in as many seasons, the Wildcats showed that they can compete against the best of the best in both the BIG EAST and on the national stage. They'll look to improve upon their standing with a new coaching staff as Kulas takes over the coaching reigns after serving as Villanova's top assistant for previous three seasons. Kristin Shaw and Zach Thronton round out Kulas' staff and bring plenty of top-notch coaching experience and enthusiasm to the team as the Wildcats set for a fresh start in 2014.
Villanova returns eight starters and 18 letterwinners this season all while strengthening the team with seven newcomers to the active roster. The incoming class gives the Wildcats a chance to begin the season with the most depth and interchangeability they've had in recent history. The Wildcats were chosen to finish sixth in the BIG EAST Preseason Coaches' Poll which was released last week while powerhouses Marquette and Georgetown were chosen for first and second place finishes, respectively. St. John's claimed both the Preseason Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year spots and Villanova's own Katie Martin (Dallas, Texas) was picked as a Preseason All-BIG EAST Selection after leading the team in goals, assists and points during her freshman season in 2013.
Villanova welcomes back their two leading scorers from 2013 in Martin and junior Reanna Marino (Massapequa, N.Y.), who combined for 10 goals and 12 assists for 32 points last season. Martin had an extremely successful freshman campaign for Villanova and was named to the All-BIG EAST Third Team following her rookie campaign. A natural goal scorer, Martin has a knack for finding the back of the net and notched a team-high six goals and 10 assists in 2013 and started in all 19 games. She'll serve as an excellent complement for Marino who returns as a seasoned veteran in her third year with the Wildcats. Marino made 17 appearances and 14 starts as a sophomore and tallied four goals and two assists last season.
Junior Christina Camassa (Freehold, N.J.) also adds both size and agility for the Wildcats up front. At 5'10", Camassa has the ability to be a target on set pieces and corners and has appeared in 32 games with two goals and one assist in her previous two years with the team.
Martin, Marino and Camassa will be joined on the forward line by three promising newcomers in Erin Hughes (Huntington, N.Y.), Jessica Moskal (Holmdel, N.J.) and Amanda Vocelka (Atlanta, Ga.). Vocelka, who notched 62 goals through three seasons at St. Pius X Catholic, contributed two assists in the Wildcats 2-0 win over Monmouth during the Wildcats preseason game on August 12th. Hughes helped St. Anthony's to back-to-back New York State Championships in her prep career while Moskal finished her high school campaign with 36 goals and 17 assists for 89 points en route to earning all-conference and all-division laurels.
Villanova returns an experienced midfield for the 2014 season and features a versatile cast that has the ability to play both sides of the field. Sophomore Callie Duliba (Kintnersville, Pa.) appeared in 18 games while making 14 starts as a freshman and has the capability to play as a fullback and midfielder. Classmate Caitlin Bucksbaum (Falmouth, Maine) also developed and gained valuable experience in the offseason and added an assist in the 2-0 win over Monmouth during the Wildcats preseason camp.
Juniors Emily Damstrom (Short Hills, N.J.) and Hayley Wilson (Leonardtown, Md.) will both be called upon for production in 2014. Each has garnered conference honors in their careers as Wilson was named a 2013 Third Team All-BIG EAST selection last season while Damstrom earned All-BIG EAST Rookie honors in 2012. Combined, the duo has played 5,590 minutes on the pitch and has contributed six goals and seven assists for 19 points in their careers.
Seniors Amanda Penkrot (Wilmington, Del.), Caitlin Forte (Selbyville, Del.) and Victoria Gersh (Silver Spring, Md.) lead the Villanova midfield for their final year on the Main Line. Forte appeared in all 19 games as a junior and notched one goal and five assists for seven points. She also provided both of the Wildcats goals in the 2-0 win over Monmouth during preseason and is poised for another successful campaign. Gersh has been a two-time BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll selection and was named to the 2012 Villanova Classic All-Tournament Team in her career. She's totaled 4,680 minutes on the field while contributing seven goals and six assists for 20 points through her junior season. Penkrot also became a consistent contributor for Villanova during her junior season and appeared in 17 contests while making seven starts in 2013 and will be relied upon for experience and leadership in her senior season.
Villanova will have to replace one of the most solid defenders in Villanova history with the graduation of Taylor Houck. Houck was an anchor at in the Wildcat backfield, was the go-to player on set pieces and also served as a team captain during her time with the Wildcats. Looking to fill her role are seniors Katie Campbell (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) and Kaitlin Hogman (Center Valley, Pa.). Campbell came on strong in the latter part of 2013 following a long recovery from a knee injury and appeared in 10 games while making six starts as a junior. Hogman will also provide senior leadership and has totaled 2,476 minutes on the pitch through three seasons while making 40 appearances and 25 starts on defense.
Junior Rhea Barghash (Bridgewater, N.J.) has settled nicely into a defensive role after transitioning from midfield to right back midway through her freshman campaign and appeared in 13 games and made 12 starts in 2013. Classmate Renee Hart (Bethesda, Md.) adds plenty of speed to the team and has the ability to make runs and create transition for the Wildcats while fellow junior Michelle Wiese (Syracuse, N.Y.) gained experience in her second year and appeared in six contests with three starts in 2013.
Looking for playing time are freshmen Emily Kuefler (Brighton, Mass.), Julianne Minutillo (Livingston, N.J.) and Siobhan O'Toole (Riding, Va.). Kuefler and Minutillo recorded starts in Villanova's scrimmage against Rutgers on August 16th while O'Toole also earned time against the Scarlet Knights. Kuefler was a two-time all-state selection in Massachusetts while Minutillo helped her PDA Slammers ECNL team to a ECNL National Championship in 2013. O'Toole also had a successful club career and helped PWSI Courage 95 to a Region I Premier League Championship and two Super Y National Championships during her time with the squad.
Perhaps the biggest role Villanova will have to fill is that of four-year starting goalkeeper Jami Kranich. Kranich was a member of the U.S. Women's National Team for the 2012 FIFA U-20 World Cup and was also drafted by the Boston Breakers in the 2014 NWSL Collegiate Draft following her senior season as a Wildcat. During her Villanova career, Kranich started 64 games, finished with 269 saves and posted a 1.59 goals against average.
Looking to follow in her footsteps are junior Tracy Rendano (Garden City, N.Y.), sophomore Emma Meyer (Massapequa, N.Y.) and freshman Emily Harris (Derry, N.H.). All three are untested but have the chance to earn the starting role as the anchor for the Wildcats in net. Meyer earned the start in Villanova's scrimmage against Rutgers on August 16th and was named the Outstanding Goalkeeper for the New York State High School State Championship tournament for Massapequa High School in 2010. Rendano earned all-conference honors and was a five-year member of the Eastern New York South ODP team while Harris led her FC Stars of Massachusetts ECNL team to two Massachusetts State Championships and was a two-time first team all-state selection.
Villanova opens the year at home against Drexel on August 22nd before heading south to face Radford (Aug. 29) and national powerhouse Virginia (Aug. 31) for a pair of games over Labor Day weekend. The non-conference schedule also features home games against Pittsburgh (Sept. 5), James Madison (Sept. 12) and Towson (Sept. 19) while the Wildcats will square off against Lehigh (Sept. 7), Princeton (Sept. 14) and West Virginia (Sept. 21) on the road.
Regular season BIG EAST play opens with a pair of away contests at Butler (Sept. 25) and Marquette (Sept. 28) before Villanova returns to Higgins Soccer Complex for a three-game stretch against Xavier (Oct. 2), DePaul (Oct. 5) and St. John's (Oct. 12). The Wildcats will also host Seton Hall (Oct. 19) while their away matches to finish the season are set against Creighton (Oct. 16), Georgetown (Oct. 26) and Providence (Oct. 31).