Written by Dustin Brownlee '19
The Elms College women's soccer team is no stranger to championship runs. The Blazers have reached the New England Collegiate Conference championship game in five straight years, taking home the hardware in 2016. Coach Sean Milbier anticipates another deep tournament run in 2018 even with a young, but talented, team.
The Blazers graduated five All-NECC seniors after last season. The 2017 seniors combined for 33 of the team's 51 goals, and more than half of the team's assists. Losing big names that built the Elms program, like EC all-time leading scorer Brie Voight, Angelina Estrada, and Mackenzie LaRochelle, will definitely leave a hole in the lineup, but Milbier believes these holes will be filled with the talent coming in. The Blazers welcome five first-year students, as well as a sophomore transfer.
Returnees such as Gigi Thibault, Kelsey Shea, Danielle Asklar and Shannon Ryan give Milbier confidence that 2018 will be another successful season up front. Scoring goals may be more difficult without his last year's arsenal but Milbier said that his teams are known for being strong out of the back and believes his defense will hold the team together this year. Senior captain Christina Leonardo and junior Madison Bernard, who started every game last year, will help anchor the back line.
A strong defense is a huge part of winning games, especially when you have one of the best goalies in the league, 2016 NECC Goalkeeper of the Year Rebecca Molin. Molin broke three goalkeeper season records as a freshman in 2016, recording 15 shutouts, a 0.65 goals against average, and recording the most minutes in any season with 2,092. Milbier has a lot of trust in his returnees this season and believes they will be a tremendous help.
There are always two perspectives when evaluating a team. One perspective is from the outsiders looking in. They likely don't know the program as well as the coaches, players, or the typical Elms College super-fan. Milbier presumes that they'll look at this season as a rebuilding year. The insider perspective, however, is the total opposite from the outsiders. Milbier and his staff and players are used to his style of coaching and know the effort and drive required to make it to another championship. They are convinced that this is another championship caliber team.
Milbier has set some reachable goals for his team. Some of these goals include going undefeated in NECC play, undefeated at Leary Field, and making it to another NECC championship game.
The schedule will be very tough for his young team, but Milbier believes this team can do some tremendous things. The schedule is filled with high quality teams such as Westfield State, Eastern Connecticut and Bates College. Westfield State went 11-6-3 last year and won the MASCAC Championship. Eastern Connecticut went 9-8-3 and lost in the Little East Conference title game. Bates tied the 2017 National Champion, Williams College last season. The Blazers also NECC rival Lesley University, who shocked Elms College after converting on all five penalty kicks to claim the NECC Championship last fall. It was the fifth championship in the last six seasons for the Lynx.
It will be a challenging year for the Blazers but those on the inside believe they can once again compete for an NECC championship at the end of this season.