Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Young Recruits Shine Early For Women's Soccer

Here's my latest story for The Collegiate Times.

The Virginia Tech women’s soccer team is having one of its most successful years in the program’s history.

Much of its success can be attributed to contributions from the team’s freshman class and, in particular, midfielder Kelly Conheeney and forward Kelsey Mitchell.

Conheeney and Mitchell are both receiving significant playing time, as they have each started 20 of 21 games of the season.

Overall, the team has eight freshmen, and head coach Kelly Cagle said each has significantly impacted the team on and off the field.

“They’re ready to buy in and be contributors and also be supportive of the stuff that was built prior to coming,” Cagle said. “That’s always a hard transition to make, so I have a lot of respect for both their on and off the field contributions for us.”

Both Conheeney and Mitchell are from outside the state of Virginia and were heavily recruited out of high school. After visiting Tech, both girls liked the family atmosphere that the team had as well as the resources the school offered.

“Once I met the coaching staff and the girls, I knew I wanted to come here,” Mitchell said.

“I just got the feeling that when I was here that this was it and this is where I wanted to be,” Conheeney said.

Adjusting to a sport at the collegiate level can be difficult for any athlete, especially as a freshman, but the transition for the girls has been relatively smooth.

“They’re all really good soccer players, so it’s been easy for them to adjust,” said senior forward Robin Chidester.

“They’ve been really welcoming and open to the leadership they have come into, and I think that’s a really big part of the process,” Cagle said. “They’re respectful but also go-getters.”

The highlight so far this season was when the team defeated the then No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels.

“We were really prepared and focused and put everything into it,” Conheeney said. “When we came out with the win, it was the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my life.”

Defender Julia Goldsworthy and forward Sloane Levin have also had significant playing time along with Conheeney and Mitchell. With the girls getting plenty of early action as freshmen, they’re gaining experience that will be beneficial for future teams.

“The earlier you get in the games, especially with the season we’re having now, having got to the 12 wins, having the amount of wins we have in the conference, the most we’ve had,” Cagle said. “Their experience is even different than three or four years ago, had they been freshmen then. We’re going to rely on some of that (experience) and rely on the expectation to have seasons like this year in and year out.”

With several seniors graduating, these key freshmen will be tasked with continuing to build a Tech program that is fast on the rise.

“Losing the seniors will be kind of a bummer,” Mitchell said, “but we’re all just going to grow and hopefully improve on everything we need to improve on individually and as a team.”

For now, the goal of the entire team is to finish out the season playing just as well as it did in the UNC game.

The Hokies finished fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season standings and defeated No. 10 Wake Forest last weekend in the conference tournament before losing to No. 6 Florida State in the semifinals.

The team received a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will play the first round in the UCLA bracket against Murray State.

“I know we’re capable of anything after beating the number one team in the country,” Conheeney said. “If we play at our best, we’re the best team out there. We need to not think about the other opponent but think about what we need to do and we’ll be in good shape.

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