The nearest Target is cleared out of back to school supplies, every other day there is a heat warning, and BC emails are piling up—the school semester is officially gearing up.
With the return of school, comes the more exciting return of women’s soccer and bi-weekly pilgrimages to Newton (or logging on to ESPN). The Eagles have a full slate of 18 games, with a second half dominated by ten ACC matchups to close out the regular season.
To recap last season: the Eagles finished 12th in the ACC and did not qualify for the postseason. Early games against non-ACC opponents showed a talented team with firepower up front and a defense committed to protecting Wiebke Willebrandt in goal. A comeback win over Holy Cross and a 1-0 defeat to No.12 South Carolina showed the Eagles' mental grit and ability to take the game to their opponents. However, the Eagles struggled in ACC play, winning only one game and finishing with an overall .417 win percentage, a disappointing end to a season filled with early promise.
This season, the Eagles return a solid leadership group, with veteran captain Michela Agresti being joined by Sam Smith and Sam Agresti for the 22-23 season. All three are seniors who have been with the program since their freshman year, bringing both on field and program experience to their role as captains. Michela Agresti was named to the U-23 Women’s National Team for a pair of games in March, providing another level of experience and leadership.
Sonia Walk and Éabha O’Mahony also have national team experience—Walk with the U-20 Canadian women’s national team, playing in the U-20 FIFA World Cup at the time of this article, and O’Mahony with the Republic of Ireland’s National Team, playing in world cup and UEFA European Championship qualifying. While national team duty means that Walk and O’Mahony will occasionally miss BC games, both provide exceptional defensive skills with the ability to quickly transition into the counter-attack. Walk provides stability as a holding mid, allowing Sam Agresti and Laura Gouvin to push forward in anticipation of Walk winning the ball in the space behind them. Along with her defense, O’Mahony provides overlapping runs on the left side, creating numerical imbalances in the attacking third.
Sam Smith and Ella Richards are slated to anchor the forwards, with Andi Barth, Alycia Morin, and Sydney Segalla providing additional options for service. Richards had a breakout year as a freshman, leading the team in points and scoring eight goals. Richards was used centrally, with Smith and Barth providing speed on the wings. An additional seven goals came from Sam Agresti and Gouvin in the midfield. This season, Richards will need to continue her dominance in front of goals while finding new ways to score given that teams will have her marked as a threat. The team will need to continue finding and fielding a wide array of goal-scorers and increase ACC production in order to stay competitive. Richards will be the center-piece of the Eagles' offense with Smith providing an equally dangerous threat up front or on the wing.
As for new faces, the incoming recruitment class is the highest ranked class in program history, demonstrating the commitment the coaching staff has to improving the program. Along with the incoming freshmen, two graduate transfers will play out their final year of eligibility on the heights. Morin adds experience to the front line, while Claire Mensi adds depth to the back line. Segalla was ranked first overall in the Northeast region by Top Drawer Soccer, while Sophia Lowenberg and Riley Kerber were ranked fourth in the Northeast region and 10th overall in the Great Lakes region respectively, demonstrating the depth of the incoming class. Defender Emma Badger set a program record in 2021 at Wells High School with 30 goals. Likely playing a center-back role for the Eagles, Badger should contribute to the offensively minded backline.
Looking around the ACC, the Eagles have a difficult task ahead—but not an impossible one. The ACC boasts four teams in the top 10 of preseason polling, with Florida State University having won the National Championship this past year. Duke debuts at no.2, Virginia at no.4, and North Carolina at no.10. Notre Dame and Clemson are also ranked at no.16 and no.25 respectfully. The Eagles begin their ACC campaign facing FSU, Duke, and North Carolina. A tough task for any team, especially one that has been struggling to perform at .500 level for the past three years.
The good news is that the ACC is not without some surprise shake-ups and chaos. Reigning champs, FSU parted ways with head coach of 17 years Mark Krikorian in March and the ensuing coaching search led to friction between the FSU players and administration. Notably, 2021 Defensive player of the Year Emily Madril decided to forgo her final year of eligibility and play professionally. FSU is still expected to finish in the top four of the ACC, according to preseason coaching polls, but with ACC competition as stiff as it is, any slight opening can provide movement across the table.
The pre-season ACC coaches poll predicts the Eagles will finish 12th in the ACC—the same as the previous year. It’s an open secret that the ACC is the toughest conference in college soccer and in order to improve upon previous years, the Eagles will have to string together wins against ranked opponents without losing matches to unranked ACC teams. To pull that off the team needs impeccable if not perfect goalkeeping from Willebrandt, a defense that continues to excel at the offside trap while surrendering significantly less high danger scoring opportunities such as corner kicks or free kicks near the box, and an offense able to break through ACC defenses with regularity. It’s a tall order for any team looking to break into the top of the bracket.
After last season, the Eagles have nothing to lose and everything to prove. Holding steady seems the most likely course of action, with the Eagles finishing somewhere between 8th (optimistically) and 12th (most likely scenario), though injuries, team chemistry, and resiliency across the conference makes it difficult to predict exactly how the Eagles will do. Only the top eight teams qualify for the conference championship tournament, meaning that an 8th place finish would provide post-season experience. BC remains a young team, which creates more potential for growth, but can also mean a longer learning curve as players adapt to both college soccer and college life in general.
The 22/23 campaign kicks off August 18th, with the Eagles facing Villanova at home. Kickoff is at 5:30 pm.