For the first time in program history, the road to a Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) title goes through Adrian College. It may have been a long time coming, but after 23 years the Adrian College women's soccer team captured its first MIAA championship with a 14-2 league mark and a school-record mark of 17-5 overall. The program has seen big strides since head coach Ali Alamdari took over and entering his fifth season he sees more success in the future.
"We want to be in competition for the MIAA title again this year," said Alamdari. "We want to make it into the NCAA Tournament. I felt like we made a strong case last year, but we want to make a stronger case this time around. We had a motto last year of just focusing on daily improvement and big things will come. Our focus really is the same this year because you can't look too far ahead."
The Bulldogs are very fortunate because all five of the team's top point scorers are back. The team averaged 2.64 goals per game a year ago and limited its opponents to just one goal per game. Adrian features several players who can carry the scoring load, which is a great feeling heading into 2012.
"I think goal scoring is one area that has been addressed," commented Alamdari. "The first few years as head coach the philosophy was defensive-minded. Now we feel like we can take the game to our opponent. Our talent is elite at the NCAA Division III level, so we feel like if we click on the offensive end our chances of winning is greater."
Junior Sam Barker (Temperance, Mich./Bedford HS) is one of the more talented players in the country and was named Third Team All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) in 2011. Barker already owns the school scoring record with 101 points in just two seasons and scored a whopping 25 goals a year ago.
"I don't think we know what the future holds for Sam this year," said Alamdari. "Her role will be different this year based on what opponents do. I think certain teams showed her respect and double-teamed her and we will probably see more of that this year. How she handles the pressure of being such a big target will determine how she goes from here. She will continue to be a very important piece to our success."
Proving that this team is more than just a one-trick pony are a couple of players who also had success as freshmen. Erin Weide (Madison Heights, Mich./Bishop Foley HS) and Ellery Karsten (St. Joseph, Mich./St. Joseph HS) each scored seven goals to rank second on the team. Weide earned Second Team All-Region accolades by also leading the team with nine assists for a total of 23 points. Karsten came off the bench and provided a spark on offense.
"We are fortunate to have quite a few players who can score including Erin Weide," exclaimed Alamdari. "She was phenomenal last year as a freshman and was sometimes overshadowed. She earned All-Region honors which was the highest honor Adrian had ever achieved except for it was the same year that Barker was an All-American. Ellery Karsten made an impact last year off the bench and scored seven goals. She will be another key player on offense this season."
Senior Lauren Cozzi (Roselle, Ill./St. Viator HS) scored six goals a year ago and is a solid possession player. She has some of the best footwork in the conference and will add valuable leadership on the field.
"Lauren Cozzi is also a big piece that has been moved around quite a bit because of her versatility," said Alamdari. "She is also a huge scoring and playmaking threat.
On defense, seniors Patti Vaassen (Ann Arbor, Mich./Saline HS), Katie Caruso (Novi, Mich./Novi HS) and Claire Phillips (Saline, Mich./Saline HS) form a formidable trio against opposing offenses. Vaassen contributed three goals and six assists which was great output from the back row. Caruso and Phillips also bring toughness and experience to a team which posted seven shutouts in 2011.
"Patti Vaassen is a threat on set pieces and was also an all-conference defender and we expect more of the same," said Alamdari. "Katie Caruso and Claire Phillips are back on defense and each has done a great job over the offseason trying to improve their game."
The program is simply not content with just winning one championship. Coach Alamdari sees that you must be prepared every day for those who wish to knock you off the pedestal.
"I think it is not a specific area of the field that needs improving, but it is complacency. How do you take a year of success and turn it into a tradition of success. I believe we have a lot to learn in that regard. Our coaching staff needs to make sure that our team is focused and don't take anything for granted. Opportunities like this don't come around very often, so we need to be ready to take on all challengers."
The motivation for this year is pretty simple. The Bulldogs were so close to reaching the NCAA Tournament and that heartache has been driving them harder than ever.
"The biggest thing was that we knew our chances were slim last year after seeing some upsets around the country," explained Alamdari. "We wanted the team to watch the selection show and as they watched the comment that kept coming up was 'We have not heard of many of these teams before'. It was a good indication that we are fighting just like many other teams for national recognition."