2016 UAlbany Women’s Soccer Outlook: Defending the Title
ALBANY, N.Y. – Coming off its best season in program history, the UAlbany women’s soccer team will look to defend as America East champions in 2016.
In 2015, the Great Danes tied for second place in America East play, finishing conference play with three straight shutouts to go 4-3-1 in league competition to earn the 2-seed. UAlbany defeated 3-seed Vermont 2-1 in overtime, then scored two goals in the final nine minutes for a 2-1 victory at 1-seed Hartford to earn the program’s first-ever America East Tournament title and berth into the NCAA Tournament, where the Great Danes fell to eventual national champion Penn State. UAlbany tied a program record with wins in a season, finishing 11-9-1 overall.
Into 2016, fourth year head coach Caitlin Cucchiella returns her top five point scorers, including all four players with at least five goals last season, two America East All-Conference players and a pair conference all-rookie team members. UAlbany was predicted to finish first in the America East in the preseason coaches poll this week.
UAlbany’s most experienced unit will be on the front line, returning its two starters and a couple of its key reserves. Two-time America East All-Conference member and player on the U20 Mexican National Team Vivian Vega scored six goals last season. The junior has 15 goals in her two-year collegiate career, ranking sixth in UAlbany history.
Also back as a starter from last year in redshirt junior Kiana Rugar, who had the most points in the unit last season with 15 off five goals and five assists. She ranks second in UAlbany history with 12 career assists, two shy of tying the record.
Mariah Williams was UAlbany’s primary reserve forward last season, earning a place on the America East All-Rookie Team with five goals and two assists, including the game-winning assist in the America East Tournament win vs. Vermont.
Bolstering the ranks are a couple reserves from last year. Senior Bianca Webb has played in 34 games in her college career, scoring a goal vs. UMass Lowell, while junior Morgan Loder appeared in 10 games last season at forward, scoring a goal vs. Holy Cross.
Two freshmen will add to the forward lines in 2016. Michaela Webb, the sister of Bianca Webb, comes to UAlbany from Wellesley High in the state of Massachusetts and played for the FC Boston Scorpions in the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL). Meagan O'Neil was the MVP for Liverpool High in leading her school to the 2014 Section III Class AA championship, also playing with the Syracuse Development Academy.
The UAlbany midfield corps includes the squad’s two team captains but will need to replace two starting players.
Alexa Schneider, a two-time team captain entering her senior year, is the program’s first two-time America East First Team All-Conference player. Leading the team with seven goals last season, adding four assists for 18 points, stands tied for fifth in UAlbany history with 36 points.
Classmate Caitlyn Paltsios will also don the captain’s armband this season. A 2015 America East All-Academic Team member, the defensive midfielder leads all UAlbany returners in assists with six last season and has 10 in her career to tie for third in program history. She also takes corner kicks for the Great Danes.
Returning from injury last season is redshirt junior Angela Luizzi. The Albany native played 13 games with five starts in 2014 after transferring from Hartwick College.
Adding to the team is Nicole Doolen, a junior college transfer from Herkimer C.C. A two-sport athlete there, she helped the soccer team finish in the top-four nationally in JUCO play and a pair of conference titles.
Infused in the midfield will be four freshmen. The first UAlbany player from Arizona since 2011, Gina Bracamonte was a three-time All-East Valley Tribune First Team player at Perry High, also playing for Sereno Soccer Club in the ECNL. From New Jersey comes Shannon Bonner, who led Shore Regional to four Group 1 state finals, including the title in 2015. Bonner earned 25 goals and 36 assists in her high school career.
The other two freshmen come from the home state of New York. Shenendehowa graduate Meghan Cavanaugh was the 2015 Times Union Girls Soccer Athlete of the Year and took the Plainsmen to the Section II championship game as a senior. From the Syracuse area comes Kimberly Dieroff, who scored 85 goals with Homer High in her career. The New York State Class A all-state player took Homer to a league regular season title and will also play defense for UAlbany.
The UAlbany back line will need to replace two of its starters, including an all-conference player and a team captain. This will be the youngest unit, staffed by sophomores and freshmen.
At corner back is sophomore Caroline Kopp, a National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Northeast All-Region Team, one of only four freshmen to earn the honor last year. The 2015 America East All-Rookie Team member also took corner kicks and finished with two assists.
Savanah Courtney earned America East All-Tournament Team honors last season and started all 21 games at center back in her freshman season. The six-foot sophomore also played up front during corner kicks.
Two new players will look to challenge for time on the back row. Katelyn Brede comes to UAlbany on sophomore standing after transferring from Charleston Southern University. Brede played 14 games with two starts at CSU last year. Also in the unit is freshman Adriana Carreno, a club teammate in Florida of Courtney. Carreno led Treasure Coast High to a spot in the District 10-5A tournament semifinal in 2015.
Two UAlbany goalkeepers return this season and will have the job of replacing Alana Brennan, the program’s all-time winningest keeper.
Redshirt junior Alana Olivieri stepped into Brennan’s role in the final seven games of the year, notching three shutouts and taking the team through the America East Tournament title. She saved 72.7% of shots and had a 1.23 goals allowed average, including just four goals allowing in her first six starts of her collegiate career.
Also in the mix is 5-foot-11 redshirt freshman Chloe Borasky. The former Section III champion at Cicero-North Syracuse sat out last season for a redshirt year.
Cucchiella returns for her fourth season at the helm of the Great Danes, along with associate head coach Nick Bochette and volunteer assistant Mark Van Leuven. These three have been part of a UAlbany program that has improved by at least four victories each season. Joining the staff is assistant coach Ashley Grove, a former professional player with Herfoder SV in Germany and two-year veteran of the National Women’s Soccer League.
The Great Danes will play 17 games in the regular season, including seven at home at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium. UAlbany will play seven opponents across New York plus foes from nine different states.
Before the regular season starts, UAlbany will play an exhibition game in New York City against Fordham on Friday, August 12th at 7 p.m.
UAlbany begins the year with four consecutive road games across the Empire State. The season kicks off on Friday, August 19th against Army West Point at 7 p.m., followed by a trip to New York to take on 2015 NCAA Tournament participant St. John’s on Sunday, August 21st at 7:30 p.m.
The following weekend, the Great Danes head across town to Loudonville to battle rival Siena on Friday, August 26th at 5 p.m. in a battle of defending conference champions. Last season, UAlbany won the America East and Siena took the MAAC. On Sunday, August 28th, UAlbany heads to central NY to take on ACC foe Syracuse at 3 p.m.
The home opener for UAlbany will be on Thursday, September 1st at 7 p.m. as the team hosts Rhode Island under the lights at Casey Stadium. To finish up the week, the squad heads south to Poughkeepsie to play Marist on Sunday, September 4th at 1 p.m.
UAlbany plays its final two non-conference home games the next week, hosting Seton Hall on Thursday, September 8th at 7 p.m. and Quinnipiac on Sunday, September 11th at 1 p.m. Non-conference play wraps up on Friday, September 16th in New Hampshire as UAlbany takes on Dartmouth at 7 p.m.
The Great Danes begin the America East schedule on Sunday, September 25th on the road with a contest at UMass Lowell at 4 p.m. Then on Thursday, September 29th, UAlbany has its America East home opener against rival Stony Brook at 7 p.m.
Conference play continues on the road the following week as the Purple and Gold battle SUNY rival Binghamton on Thursday, October 6th at 7 p.m. then Hartford on Sunday, October 9th in a rematch of last year’s America East title game at 2 p.m.
UAlbany returns home for a pair of conference matches the next week, starting with a night game against New Hampshire on Thursday, October 13th at 7 p.m. and following with a Sunday, October 16th matinee against Vermont at 4 p.m.
The team wraps up conference play with two more games, heading north to take on Maine on Thursday, October 20th, then coming back to Casey Stadium for Senior Day on Sunday, October 23rd at 1 p.m. vs. UMBC.
The 2016 America East Tournament will include the six teams with the best conference records with the top two earning a bye into the semifinals. All games are hosted by the higher seed in the game. The quarterfinals will be on Thursday, October 27th with the semifinals being on Sunday, October 30th. The 2016 America East title game will be on either Saturday, November 5th or Sunday, November 6th.