After a run of 11-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, Boston College women’s soccer has taken a step back. Over the course of the past four years, the Eagles have only returned to the nation’s biggest stage once and even then were subjected to a quick first-round exit. Of all of head coach Alison Foley’s recent rosters, though, the 2018 iteration might just be BC’s best bet to right the ship. Not only does Foley have eight returning starters, but there’s also a pair of regulars from the season prior back from injuries that bolster a strong recruiting class.
Last year, BC was clearly overmatched in games against the ACC’s elite—Duke, Florida State, and North Carolina combined to outscore the Eagles, 10-3, in four losses—but was competitive in the rest of conference play. Victories over Louisville, Miami, and Pittsburgh as well as narrow, one-goal losses to North Carolina State and Virginia bode well for the team moving forward. The conference will once again be tough, boasting five of the top 10 recruiting classes, but Foley spoke optimistically of the talent level.
“Everybody is splitting hairs in ACC games,” the 21st-year coach said. “Most of the ACC games are one-goal games, and that shows you how competitive the league is from top to bottom. [It’s] who’s ready on that particular day is probably going to have the edge.”
The annual coaches poll slotted BC 10th in the conference, a finish that would be the Eagles’ fourth double-digit ranking in the last five years. Directly ahead of them in the standings are the Cardinals and Wake Forest, two teams BC knocked off in regular season action in 2017. With projections and the year past out of the way, here’s a full breakdown of the team the Eagles will trot out in 2018.
Newcomers: Rachel Newborough (graduate), Maddie Murphy, Alexia Lema, Kayla Duran
Departures: Lauren Berman, Allyson Swaby, Madison Kenny
Goaltenders: Alexis Bryant enters her fourth year as the starter and fifth on the Heights, so you can expect her to be in the net when the season opener rolls around. Bryant has had an up-and-down tenure with the Eagles and allowed a career-worst 28 goals in 2017, but her experience is crucial in the ACC. Still, Foley left the door open to newcomers in Maddie Murphy and Alexia Lema, describing the two as “very, very good” and cited “good, healthy competition that will keep everybody sharp in goal.” Murphy’s distribution and shot-stopping were singled out, while Lema is the best athlete of the three.
Defenders: The loss of Swaby and Kenny hurts, but Foley didn’t hold back in her confidence with the new unit.
“Interestingly enough, we’ve seen it improve,” she said. “Which is a huge statement because obviously, we had two good players graduate.”
The group is led by returning starter Gianna Mitchell, who quickly asserted herself as a freshman last season. The addition of right back Rachel Newborough—who plays for the Northern Ireland national team—has been nothing but positive. Newborough is two years removed from her international debut and has since made double-digit starts, one of which came in a meeting with a Netherlands side that was the reigning European champions.
She’s not the only newcomer to step right into a starting role, as Massachusetts native Kayla Duran, who played all three positions throughout high school, has impressed Foley from the beginning. Duran, a product of the F.C. Stars club, played all 90 minutes in a preseason scrimmage with Penn State and was one of the top players on the field.
“For her to be able to play 90 minutes and make that type of an impact against the sixth team in the country was impressive,” Foley said of the first year. “I think she’s going to have a great freshman campaign and certainly be a great addition.”
The fourth spot on the back line is still up for grabs entering the final week, with the competition between returning starter and senior Elysa Virella and junior Erin Convery coming down to the wire. Foley gave the edge to Convery, who netted a goal and an assist a season ago, but Virella started 19 games last year after transferring from junior college and could return.
Midfielders: The star of the group is Sam Coffey, a member of the U.S. National Team program and the returning points leader. She piled up five goals and 10 assists a season ago to earn preseason All-ACC honors and will slot right into the attacking central midfielder role. Coffey creates opportunities for her teammates with great frequency and is the key component of the Eagles attack. Replacing Lauren Berman, who started all 20 games last year and piled up seven goals, is tough, but the depth at the position will make it easier to overcome.
The two holding midfielder spots could go to a pair of four talented players, led by one of the team’s two captains in Kayla Jennings. Jennings made 20 starts a season ago with a pair of assists and has been a key component of the team since arriving from Maryland after her freshman season. Her younger sister, Jillian, has impressed since the first day of preseason—she started 10 games last season and has potential to add to that total. The other two are Jade Ruiters, returning from an ACL injury, and Emily Langenderfer, a junior who appeared in 19 games off the bench last year.
“That’s probably where the competition on the team is highest,” Foley said. “Kayla, Jill, Jade, and Emily are all looking really good at the end of preseason and are pushing each other to see who will be the starting two.”
Forwards: Like the midfield position, there’s plenty of depth among the forwards, especially with the return of now-captain Gabby Carreiro. Paired with three of the team’s top five goal scorers from a season ago, BC now has strength up top that could make things difficult on opposing defenses. The trio of offensive starters are likely Carreiro and the junior duo of Olivia Vaughn and Jenna Bike, while Carly Leipzig and Riley Lochhead are valuable assets off the bench.
Carreiro is arguably the most exciting player in the unit, especially after reports from preseason camp. The junior netted three goals and chipped in with 13 assists in 36 games started across her first two years.
“Her leadership and her ability to remain focused and engaged and push other people has been phenomenal,” Foley said. “She’s also one of the best people going at defenders one-on-one on the team.”
Vaughn, meanwhile, scored twice in the Penn State scrimmage and finished off two more in an intrasquad scrimmage the weekend after. Her knack for finding the back of the net is well documented, as she has 10 career goals over two years, and stepped into a starting role with ease in 2017. Bike’s speed, meanwhile, remains difficult for opposing teams to manage—she used it to net six goals, best among returning players. Bike showed flashes of her ceiling with goals in three consecutive games last year—the run included a breakaway finish against Colgate, a knock in from a teammate’s header against Stony Brook, and a rebound against Northeastern.
Leipzig and Lochhead are no slouches, though—Foley cited them as likely starters on other teams throughout D1. Both appeared in every game last season, with the former totaling five goals. Lochhead is an intriguing story as well, as she arrived back in Newton this fall and “came in as one of the top fitness players in all of our testing.”
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Staff