New players, speed highlight 2006 team

Coach Logan Fleck expects his women’s soccer team to make the transition from an average team to a conference powerhouse this season.

Last year’s team operated under a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy. The Bulls featured a strong defense and took their offensive opportunities when they came. This season, Fleck has assembled a quicker and more aggressive squad.

“Our team is much, much faster than last season,” Fleck said. “Now we are more suited to the Big East style of play. We can make the transition from offense to defense almost seamlessly. That was one area where we struggled last season.”

Offensively, the Bulls are turning to sophomore Ebony Robinson, junior Lindsay Brauer, senior Michelle Buskey and freshman Jalessa Scott to spread the field and rush the net. The team is deeper up front and should have a more potent offensive attack.

“We definitely know each other better and are clicking offensively,” Robinson said. “We have some really good freshman coming in, and the level of play has stepped up. No one wants to give up their spot.”

While the team has taken some impressive strides offensively, Fleck strongly reiterated defense was the key to his team’s success.

“Everything starts on the defensive end: If you’re down one goal, that is a huge deficit,” Fleck said. “This team has the ability to come from behind, but we don’t want to have to prove that too often.”

Senior goalkeeper Casey Garrett anchors the Bulls defensively. Last season, she stopped 88 shots and posted five shutouts. This season she hopes to have a better year against conference foes, as the Bulls went 2-6-3 in Big East games.

“We are a lot feistier this year,” Garrett said. “There have been some hard hits and a few fights, but no one is complaining. If someone gets knocked down, they bounce right back up and keep stride. The team is much more physical than before.”

An improved offense will help Garrett have an easier time defending the goal. During a game, there should be less pressure on her, and Garrett could post even better numbers than last season.

“Practices are tougher, and that has helped me improve,” Garrett said. “I know there won’t be as much pressure on the defense this year. We are deep at goalie, and that has also pushed me during training.”

USF lacked depth last season, and the quality players are a welcome addition for Fleck. Some freshmen have earned playing time and are pushing to earn a starting position.

“We have a few players that have really distinguished themselves during the first few days of practice,” Fleck said. “The first few games will really indicate who gets playing time, so starting positions are up in the air.”

For 2006, the Big East split into National and American divisions. USF will represent the American division, along with Connecticut, Marquette, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Providence, St. John’s and Syracuse.

According to a preseason poll, USF is predicted to finish sixth in the American division.

A healthy Bulls team should exceed those expectations. Senior Jessica Zabel has already suffered a season-ending knee injury, according to Fleck. The forward scored the game-winning goal against St. Thomas and played in 13 games last season.

However, Fleck feels the toughest transition to make is having the mentality of a winning club. Fleck and his players have a positive attitude and appear confident in their abilities. But it will have to carry to the field if the Bulls are to improve on their 7-7-3 record from 2005.

“We’re coming back hard this year, we have a good team, and I have a lot of confidence,” Robinson said. “I know we are going play way better than last year.”