By: Justin Brouckaert, Vanguard Sports Editor
After following up a trip to the NCAA playoffs in 2009 with a disappointing early exit in the GLIAC quarterfinals last year, Coach Drago Dumbovic’s Cardinals found out how much things can change in a year.
The team is hoping that 2011 will also be a year of change – back in the right direction.
“The biggest difference [between 2009 and 2010] was the leadership and energy level on the team,” said junior defender Megan Morad, who was a freshman during the 2009 season, when the Cardinals posted a 14-3-3 record. “We were so excited because the upperclassmen had these hopes for us: We were making it to the NCAA playoffs.
“That was what we believed we could do, and last year we just didn’t have that.”
But Morad believes that leadership and energy will be a strong point again for the team in 2011.
“We’re definitely hoping to go to the NCAA playoffs again this year,” Morad said. “That’s what we’re telling the freshmen: We’re making it this far, and we’re not expecting anything less than that.”
With 21 incoming freshmen, the 2011 class is expected to play a big role for the team.
“We have about five or six freshmen starting right now, so they’re all stepping up,” Morad said. “They’re all bringing a lot of new talent and enthusiasm to the team, and it’s pretty exciting to have all that young blood in here.”
Despite the influx of talent, Morad says that the upperclassmen leaders aren’t giving in to the younger competition.
“We know we have to step up and tell these freshmen, ‘You have to know your plays, you have to work for your spot, and you can’t just come in here and start,’” she said. “All of the freshmen that are starting and playing in games have earned their spot; nothing has been given to them.”
Morad said that the young players have responded well to the challenge.
“They all respect their upperclassmen and know their plays, which is a huge thing,” Morad said. “These girls are willing to learn.”
In addition to Morad, SVSU returns several key players from a 2010 season where the team finished with an overall record of 9-8-1.
The Cardinals’ offense will be led by senior midfielder Sam Echols, who was the team’s leading goal scorer last year with four.
Joining Morad on the defensive line will be Abby Bellamy, a senior who started all 18 games for the Cardinals in 2010.
Out of the three preseason games SVSU has played so far, the team has won two, with the third cancelled due to rain. The new energy and early success has the team looking forward to big things.
“We’re expecting to finish first in the GLIAC for sure,” Morad said. “It’s just a matter of keeping our energy level up.”
The Cardinals open up their season at 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, at Lewis University.