OXFORD, Ohio – Coming off arguably the best season in Miami University women’s soccer history last year, the RedHawks get their first taste of competition in 2013 Saturday when they travel to Cincinnati for their lone exhibition match against Xavier. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at the XU Soccer Complex.
Miami brings back 10 starters and 14 letterwinners from its 2012 Mid-American Conference Regular-Season and Tournament championship team that finished the year with a school and MAC record 20 wins. The RedHawks ended last season with an overall record of 20-3-1, which included an 11-game winning streak and 16-game unbeaten streak, both of which were also program bests. In league play, Miami became just the second team in conference history to go unbeaten in the regular season, finishing 10-0-1. The RedHawks then went on to upset No. 20 Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in overtime for their third NCAA win in program history, before having their season halted in the second round by No. 15 Duke.
Although Miami losses All-American and 2012 MAC Offensive Player of the Year Jess Kodiak, who had team bests of 12 goals and 12 assists as a senior, the RedHawks return plenty of firepower from a squad that averaged 2.5 goals per game. Miami has 78.3 percent of its goal scoring coming back in 2013, including a quartet of All-MAC performers. Senior captain Katy Dolesh, a two-time First-Team All-MAC selection, will lead the charge as she looks to build on last season when she scored nine goals and added eight assists out of the midfield.
The leading returning goal-scorer for the RedHawks will be junior midfielder Kelsey Dinges, another First-Team All-MAC honoree last year who totaled 11 goals and seven assists. Senior midfielder Kayla Zakrzewski will again be a threat down the wing after tallying nine goals and 11 assists a season ago and earning First-Team All-MAC distinction. Zakrzewski blasted the game-winner in overtime that ended the Volunteers season in the NCAA Tournament. On the opposite side will be speedy sophomore midfielder Haley Walter, the 2012 MAC Freshman of the Year, who looks to improve on impressive totals of 10 goals and nine assists as a rookie.
Defensively, senior Sam Parrish and junior vice-captain Courtney Zanotti will anchor the back. The duo has a combined 89 games of experience, including 62 starts, while Miami has a plethora of outside backs returning from last year’s squad that limited opponents to just 1.00 goals per game. Senior goalkeeper Allison Norenberg also returns in net, having started all 42 games the last two seasons while compiling a combined 1.10 goals-against average with 12 clean sheets.
“It’s good to piece it all together and see what we can do and start playing our game again,” said Zanotti of the exhibition. “I think everyone’s excited and ready to finally get out of practice and start putting it to work.”
After nearly two weeks of two-a-day practices, including a two-day military-style bootcamp, the RedHawks know what they need to work on entering the Xavier match.
“I think a lot of it is finding our shape and organizing. Then learning how to move forward and attack altogether, not piece by piece,” Zanotti said.
In addition to all of Miami’s returning weapons, the RedHawks added 10 newcomers, including nine freshmen, who have been learning the RedHawks’ style of play during training camp. They will get their first taste of collegiate competition on Saturday against the Musketeers.
“It’s a hard system to learn but they’re catching on fast,” Zanotti said of the rookies. “They’re all paying attention and their heads are in it. I think they’re just as excited as everyone else is.”
Xavier enters Saturday’s exhibition coming off a 5-1 exhibition loss to Notre Dame Wednesday, though the scrimmage was played in three 30-minute segments. The Musketeers played the Fighting Irish even in the first 30 minutes, 1-1, with freshman Tori Doss scoring XU’s lone goal.
The Musketeers finished 2012 with a 6-12-1 overall record, which included a 3-0 season-opening loss to Miami in Oxford. Xavier went 1-8-0 in the Atlantic-10, but move to the BIG EAST conference this season. Senior Mariah Whitaker led XU in scoring last year as a junior, notching three goals and assists each, both of which were tops on the team. The Musketeers showed great improvement in the spring, however, going 4-0-1 during their exhibition slate.
The RedHawks are 3-3-0 all-time against Xavier during the regular season, including last year’s win. Miami is 1-1 all-time at XU, but lost the last meeting in Cincinnati in 2011.
Miami head coach Bobby Kramig, the program’s only coach who enters his 17th year at the helm of the women’s program and 31st year at Miami, knows what he wants to accomplish against the Musketeers.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time working on defending and trying to get our house in order defensively. So what I’m looking for is an extended period of time of good defending. I know that we can do this. The challenge for our kids is to do it throughout the duration of the game, not just do it in bits and pieces for five minutes here and 10 minutes there,” Kramig said. “We want to see good organized defending, good communication. We want to see people staying mentally engaged in the game. That’s goal number one.
“Goal number two is to be technically clean – string good passes together. No ambiguous balls. Everything is to feet,” he continued. “And then three is good movement off the ball. Let’s be dynamic and get numbers around the ball whenever we can. Let’s get some goals.”
Following its lone exhibition, Miami opens the regular season Friday, Aug. 23 at two-time defending Missouri Valley Conference Tournament champion Illinois State, followed by a match at Valparaiso Aug. 25. A complete season preview will be available on MURedHawks.com next week.