Soccer Season Previews: Women Open Season at SC Invite; Men at Medgar Evers

This year's soccer teams will be backstopped by senior goalkeepers Ryan Murphy and Kayla Labrecque, respectively.
This year's soccer teams will be backstopped by senior goalkeepers Ryan Murphy and Kayla Labrecque, respectively.

Women's Soccer

The Warriors shoot for their fourth straight Little East Conference regular-season title and hope to top it off with their first LEC tournament championship since 2011. Eastern was 9-8-3 last year and posted its third straight unbeaten (6-0-1) LEC season, extending its unbeaten LEC regular-season streak to 25 (23-0-5).

Emily Becher, McKenzie Reimondo, Krista Petersen and Maggie Bodington – who combined for 13 All-LEC selections – are among six key losses. Becher finished as the program's third all-time leading scorer despite sustaining a career-ending shoulder injury midway through the season.

"We have a good mix of returning players and new players," says 19th-year head coach Chris D'Ambrosio, who has led the program to 17 straight winning seasons and welcomes back 13 letterwinners. "We are athletic with good fitness and team speed. We need to blend in the new players along with changing roles from some of the returning players. Tactical awareness and decision making under pressure is a growth and development point."

The team will benefit from a large senior class of eight individuals: goalkeeper Kayla Labrecque (Westhampton, MA), center back Hannah Goodale (Coventry), center midfielder Aly Clarke (Mystic), Nikki Basilicato (Guilford), Alissa Beedle (Bethany), Anna Manser (Manchester), Tara Shayler (Avon) and Lauren Valenti (Walpole, MA). Valenti is a defender, Basilicato and Beedle forward/midfielders, Manser a forward, and Shayler a midfielder/defender.

Two freshmen may open the season in the starting lineup: Olivia Rovalino (Simsbury) and Haley Montesanto (East Haven). Both can play midfield, with Rovalino also capable of defending and Montesanto also a midfield candidate.

The Warriors open Aug. 31 against Roger Williams University at the Springfield College Invitational.

Men's Soccer

The Warriors return half of their starters from a team which rebounded from its first losing season in 12 years (9-7-2, 2-3-2 Little East). Eastern lost five of its matches by one goal and, ultimately, had a streak of ten straight LEC playoff appearances ended.

Three-time All-LEC midfielder/forward Xavier Doran is among five players lost to graduation, along with four-year starter JD Stearns (both players being named to the NEISL Senior All-Star Game), Alexander Fazzino, Nicholas Warren and Justin Grant.

Three-time All-LEC goalkeeper Ryan Murphy (Cromwell) – last year's LEC leader in save percentage -- returns in net as one of 13 returning letterwinners and will be joined by returning starting defenders Nick Starkowski (Marlborough), Brendan Darcy (West Hartford) and David Noel (Armonk, NY) and starting forward Griffin Luczek (Lee, NH). Starkowski and Luczek are juniors, Darcy and Noel sophomores.

Always one of the conference's lock-down defensive units, Eastern was second in the LEC a year ago by allowing only 17 goals in 18 matches.

"We return a lot of talent and experience," notes 12th-year head coach Greg DeVito, who will become the program's winningest head coach with his 16th victory. "We have depth at most positions – especially in goal – and with our attacking players," added DeVito, who has been encouraged in the pre-season by the players' attitude and "positive vibe."

Eastern, which had won three straight LEC playoff championships earlier in DeVito's tenure, was voted a solid No. 4 in the nine-team conference in the pre-season coaches' poll – eight points ahead of No. 5 Keene State College. The Warriors fell a point shy of fourth place and the final LEC playoff spot last year (a revised playoff format this year as the top six clubs qualifying for the playoffs).

 Three newcomers could open the season in the starting lineup: sophomore transfer defender Kyle Baron (Burlington) – who redshirted last year at Southern Connecticut  -- along with freshman forward Patrick Agyemang (East Hartford) and freshman midfielder Will Toomey (Willington).

DeVito points to health, the ability to integrate a talented incoming class, learning how to win close games, and patience with the developmental process as challenges this season.

Eastern visits first-time opponent Medgar Evers College in its opener Saturday.