August 24th, 2016

Bellarmine women's soccer preview

Adam Pruiett

Bellarmine University Assistant S.I.D

Bellarmine women's soccer preview
photo provided by the Bellarmine athletic department

For Chris Tinius, strict adherence to an established process is the best method to maximizing potential. As the Bellarmine University women's soccer coach discovered last season, a team's degree of potential due to devotion to a system can be surprising.

The Knights in 2015 were tabbed as a fairly heavy preseason favorite to win the Great Lakes Valley Conference, but the fact is they had 11 newcomers and more than a little uncertainty. Tinius was optimistic from the get-go that the team would develop into a title contender by the latter part of the season, but it turned out there was no waiting period. Bellarmine started the season with a program-record 13-game unbeaten streak, captured its first GLVC regular-season championship and made an unprecedented run to the Sweet 16 of the Division II NCAA Tournament.

"A lot of times when you think of an overachieving team, you think of a team that was bad the year before or came on late in the year," said Tinius, whose squad finished 17-3-2 in recording the best season in program history. "But good teams can be overachieving too. We had talent and knew we were going to be good at the end of the year but, to the kids' credit, they put it together faster than we thought. In that way, it was a special season. We were a good team that also overachieved."

Expectations won't diminish this season for a team that has made five NCAA Tournament appearances in the last seven years. Bellarmine returns seven starters, including five who were All-GLVC selections in 2015. Several other holdovers logged a considerable amount of minutes on a squad that carried a 12-1-2 conference record and earned the top seed in the GLVC Tournament.

One of the main question marks surrounding the team is how it will respond to the graduation of Jordan Major, an All-GLVC and All-Region defender who was also the unquestioned voice of the Knights on the field.

"We'll miss her as a soccer player for sure, but we've got to figure out what our vocal presence is going to be and who is going to be able to step up and solve problems," said Tinius, the reigning GLVC and Midwest Region Coach of the Year. "We might not have a singular voice like we did last year; it's probably going to have to be by committee."

Senior forward Mary Beth Gorham became the program's first first-team All-American last season after racking up a program-record 13 goals and seven assists. The reigning GLVC Offensive Player of the Year is three scores shy of tying Jaime Halas for first on the all-time goals list. Senior midfielder Lauren Holder tied a program record with eight assists last season, added three goals and is a two-time first-team All-GLVC selection.

While there's no disputing the effectiveness of the Gorham-Holder combo, Bellarmine will look for more diversity in its attack. Of sophomores Polly Marino (two goals in 2015), Jordan Chlebowy (one goal, one assist) and Audrey Van Der Elst, Tinius said, "I think any one or all could come into their own this year." Freshmen Annabel Moore and Olivia Taylor have shown promise up front.

"We hope to be a little more balanced in the attack," Tinius said. "Now you say that, but when you have an All-American forward you know she's an All-American because she can score. What I liked was that Mary Beth was involved in all but one goal in the spring, I think, but she was involved with a lot more different people. In the spring, we had more people stepping up consistently to combine with her, and hopefully that carries over."

In addition to the potent Gorham-Holder twosome, Bellarmine was known last season for a staunch defense that registered 15 shutouts. Senior holding midfielder Sydney Kraus, senior back Lexy Hazle and junior goalkeeper Taylor Smith were each All-GLVC selections last season. Senior goalie Hannah Poteet, who was injured most of last year, was an All-GLVC pick as a sophomore.

Junior defender Kelsey Lober started every match last season, and senior midfielder Josie Metzger logged 17 starts. Redshirt freshman Megan Mintman, a transfer from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, is another holding midfielder. Sophomores Caroline Lee and Madison Stephens and freshmen Erika Joldrichsen, Kira Steinke and Rosie Taylor will look to help fortify the defense.

"I like the fact that we have more options and we're probably deeper than we were last year, but it could take time finding the best combination," Tinius said.

Indeed, positions right now are far from set in stone. Tinius mentioned, for instance, that sophomore Erika Laws and freshman Isabelle Christman could play in the middle or at outside back depending on the game-plan. Finding the right fits is part of the process on a team that also features sophomore defender/midfielder Hannah Causey, redshirt freshman forward Spencer Grim and freshman goalkeeper Emma Veselsky.

"You like having more interchangeable parts, but the more parts you have trying to get used to each other, the longer it can take," Tinius said. "That's something where we have to realize that we don't want to rush and settle too early. If it takes a little while to let the whole picture develop, that's the way it goes."

Bellarmine opens the regular season on Sept. 2 against Lincoln Memorial at neutral-site Columbus State. In the preseason, the Knights host Campbellsville (1 p.m. ET Saturday) and Cedarville (7 p.m. Thursday) in scrimmages before playing an exhibition at Centre (7 p.m. Aug. 27). Due to NCAA rules regarding preseason matches classified as scrimmages, there will not be BU athletics coverage of the Campbellsville and Cedarville scrimmages. There will be pre- and post-match coverage of the Centre exhibition.

This marks Tinius' third year at Bellarmine. Everything was new in Year 1 and the host of newcomers in the second year made for a lot of unpredictability. In that regard, things have settled down.

"This is the most familiar I've been with the bulk of the roster for sure, but you're always working in new players and fresh faces," Tinius said. "I think the big thing is everybody is more familiar with the process and the routine. On the first day of practice, the kids looked at the cone setup and knew exactly what drill we were doing. They realize that we're going to start with the basics every year and build on that — we're not going to skip steps."


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