New women’s soccer staff to begin new era

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New women’s soccer staff to begin new era

Lanre Badmus, Staff Writer

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The dawn of a new era for UNC Wilmington women’s soccer is set to begin after the appointment of head coach Chris Neal. A young squad of Seahawks endured many growing pains in 2017, but a changing of the guard may help the team provide a stronger showing in 2018.

When we last saw the Seahawks…

…they had a tough 2017 season under previous coach Paul Cairney. Numerous squad changes and 2016 graduations saw the team enter a transition phase with many players replaced. Despite the efforts of a few bright spots, an inexperienced team that featured only three seniors finished the season with a 6-11-2 record, good enough for a tie with Towson at the bottom of the Colonial Athletic Association.

Soaring into a new era

A new coaching staff represents the greatest shift in the program. University alumnus and former assistant coach Neal became only the third head coach in program history when he was appointed at the start of July, and he will be looking to help right the ship in 2018. A head coach at conference rivals Elon from 2008-2017, Neal may be what UNCW needs to return to winning ways in the season ahead.

UNCW graduated three players last season, including midfielder Serenity Waters (three goals and five assists last season). Five freshmen have joined the team, but 23 players from the 2017 team return in 2018.

Schedule and key matchups

The Seahawks will begin their season at Virginia Commonwealth on Aug. 17. Afterward, the team will return to UNCW Soccer Stadium for their home opener against High Point on Aug. 19 before a road trip to face Virginia Tech and UNC Greensboro. Other marquee games on the schedule include a trip to Coastal Carolina on Sep. 6, a home game against East Carolina on Sep. 13, and a home showdown with Neal’s former employers Elon to kick off CAA play on Sep. 20.

Coach Neal discussed the balance of the schedule and highlighted a couple of the key matchups in a sit-down with The Seahawk.

“I like our schedule because it’s got some early tests,” Neal said. “Right out of the gates we got VCU, who played in the Atlantic-10 final last year … High Point are a notorious conference champion in the Big South, Virginia Tech play in the top league in the country in the ACC and went to a Final Four a couple of years ago…every game is winnable, every game is losable.”

Players to watch

The Seahawks will rely on sophomore midfielder Molly McGarry to be a focal point of their attack. As the team’s leading scorer from last season with five goals, as well as a preseason All-CAA selection, UNCW hopes McGarry will build on her CAA All-Rookie campaign in 2017. Junior midfielder Baley Edwards will be the engine of the team as she was the only Seahawk to start all 19 games last season.

“Since we have such a big junior class, I think it’s helped us because we’ve stuck together through freshman and sophomore year,” said Edwards. “We only have five freshmen, and our sophomores know what to do, but I think as a junior it’s helped a lot having those two years under our belts.”

Last year’s recipient of the team’s Most Improved Player award Dominique Martinez stands to continues to progress both as a player and leader entering her junior year.

“I think we have more experience as a whole,” Martinez said. “It’s helped that we already have a couple of Division I years under our belts.”

Questions to be answered

How will the Seahawks adjust to a new coach and set of tactics?

Will UNCW see a significant improvement to return to the CAA’s top tier this season?

Expect these questions and more to be answered in the 2018 season for UNCW women’s soccer.