NCAA soccer: Rebuilt Knights in familiar spot
Selective memory is important to The College of Saint Rose women’s soccer program.
Although the Golden Knights are the defending national champions and have reached the NCAA Division II national semifinals five consecutive seasons, head coach Laurie Darling Gutheil prefers to treat every team like a brand-new entity.
Expectations are high, but only in terms of getting the most out of every player’s talent. That’s why Gutheil and her youthful team don’t feel any added pressure to repeat when the Golden Knights take on West Florida tonight at 8 in the national semifinals in Evans, Ga.
“To tell you the truth, we really don’t talk about repeating. That’s not in our mentality,” Gutheil said. “This is a totally new group. We just focus on what each new group can accomplish every year. We don’t think that whole idea of repeating something is in our parameters, because each team is so different every year.”
Gutheil explained that her 20-2-2 club is almost completely rebuilt from a year ago.
“Yes, we have a core of five or six kids from last year, but we have 15 new players on this team, and 14 are freshmen. The nice thing is that we have established a culture that has enabled our program to excel at the highest level. I just want our players to earn the rewards for all the hard work that we demand and expect of them all year long. We are very satisfied that this group has excelled again. For me, it’s a situation of just wanting to get every single group of girls the best collegiate experience I can create for them. That’s really where I put my energy.”
Gutheil, who travels to Albany every day for practice after spending her days as a history teacher at South Glens Falls High School, comes across like an easy going coach, but she begs to differ.
“I am very intense,” she said. “I have very high expectations, and I hate to lose. That’s why I try to instill a desire to win in all of my players. If you work harder and put that extra effort in every day, you can experience this kind of opportunity.”
The nucleus of this year’s group knows what it takes to win at the highest level. Goalie Jessica Gerski is third in the country in goals-against average (0.42) and 11th in save percentage (.877). Remarkably, the Golden Knights have allowed only one first-half goal all season and has recorded 13 team shutouts.
Offensively, CSR is just as dominant. The Golden Knights are sixth in the nation in scoring offense. Junior forward Carmelina Puopolo was named the Daktronics East Region Player of the Year with 20 goals and 17 assists for 57 points. She already owns school records for points (139), goals (49) and assists (41).
Junior midfielder Sydney Bond adds 13 goals and four assists, while freshman midfielder is next on the scoring chart with eight goals and four assist.
There is only senior starter in the lineup, defensive back Molly Harpster.
What’s is the magic formula for success at this relatively small school located on Western Avenue in Albany?
“We’ve recruited players that we know will work in our system,” said Gutheil, who twice has been named the national coach of the year. “We look for a certain level of athletes who have speed and quickness. My system always includes three defensive backs and five midfielders. We rarely make any deviations.”
Gutheil knew it would take time for this CSR unit to mature, but she didn’t doubt that the Knights would eventually be successful.
“We create a culture of certain expectations, and those motivations are maintained within the peer group,” she said. “We understood how much we lost through graduation last year, and we put a lot of emphasis on recruiting the most talented athletes that we could for this incoming freshman class. We felt as long as we were able to keep winning regular-season games, we would peak at the end of the year. We knew that the longer we could play, the better we would play. Our goal this year was getting the younger girls woven into our system, but we had to keep winning at the same time.
“We knew the potential was there to be good in November, but we needed time to mold. We are thrilled to finally start developing our own identity.”
Besides her group of incoming freshmen, Gutheil also had to wait for a pair of injured players, junior midfielder Laura Taylor, and sophomore back La’Quilla Upton, to recover from ACL injuries.
CSR is now fully healthy and ready to go. If the Golden Knights win tonight’s test, they advance to the national championship game against the winner of the UC San Diego (16-2-4) vs. Grand Valley State (20-1-3) game Saturday.
West Florida (22-1) is paced by Chelsea Palmer with 14 goals and 18 assists. Shelby Bush is next on the scoring chart with 15 goals and six assists. JUCO transfer Sarah Story has a 0.57 goals against average and 12 shutouts.