Women's Soccer Aims To Return To Championship Form

Senior forward Christina Akalski has been an all-region selection by the NSCAA in each of her first three seasons. She is one of eight seniors on this year's team.
Senior forward Christina Akalski has been an all-region selection by the NSCAA in each of her first three seasons. She is one of eight seniors on this year's team.

The University of Scranton women's soccer team has played in each of the past six Landmark Conference championship matches, but the Royals haven't claimed the title since 2012. With the start of the 2016 season just four days away, a return to championship form may be on the horizon.

Scranton was chosen first in the Landmark Conference preseason poll of the eight head coaches, finishing with 66 points and five first-place votes. The Royals edged two-time defending champion Catholic for the top spot, as the Cardinals picked up 62 points and three first-place votes.

Elizabethtown is third with 46 points, followed by Moravian (32), Goucher (20), Susquehanna (18), Drew (17) and Juniata (11).

"It's nice to be recognized as the potential No. 1 team in the conference, but we have to work hard and earn it," said Royals head coach Colleen Pivirotto. "That's the tradition in our program – to work hard and earn it. But that number doesn't ultimately matter. We just want to be in the mix in the top four to have a chance at the end. The type of girls we have will work hard to reach that goal."

Scranton has won 38 games over the past three seasons, including a 13-3-4 record in regular season conference play. The return of eight seniors who have been a part of that success will play a key role in the fortunes of the 2016 squad. Perhaps most importantly, those seniors anchor the formation right up the middle of the field.

"We're strong right up the middle with seniors in those spots, and they're all two-, three- and four-year starters," Pivirotto said. "That type of experience is huge. They know what it takes to win, they're hungry and they're not satisfied with just getting to the championship game. They want more and they know we're capable of more."

Senior midfielder Tina Akalski (Long Beach, N.Y./Kellenberg Memorial) anchors the squad after earning all-region honors from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America in each of her first three seasons. She enters the season with 16 goals and six assists for 38 career points. Fellow senior midfielder Kelly Egan (Essex Fells, N.J./West Essex) will also play a key role alongside Akalski after a breakout junior season with eight goals and seven assists. For her career, Egan has 12 goals and 17 assists for 41 points.

Up front, senior forward Kelsey Bacon (Macungie, Pa./Emmaus) will provide a significant scoring threat after tallying a combined 19 goals and three assists for 41 points in her first three seasons.

The Royals are bolstered on the defensive end by the return of senior defender Erin Casey (Hatfield, Pa./Gwynedd Mercy Academy), who sat out last season with an injury. In 2013, she was the Landmark Conference Defensive Player of the Year and was an all-conference selection in each of her first three seasons as well as NSCAA all-region in 2013.

Casey is joined on the backline by fellow seniors Carolyn Warner (Morris Plains, N.J./Parsippany Hills) and Jessica DePinho (Morganville, N.J./Red Bank Catholic). Combined, the two have made 52 career starts, including a combined 31 last season when the Royals allowed just 0.63 goals per game.

Senior goalkeeper Krissy Welsh (Swarthmore, Pa./Strath Haven) returns after starting 34 games over the past two seasons and boasting a career goals-against average of 0.71 and a career record of 21-11-4 with 16 shutouts. Fellow senior Danielle Maurice (Farmingdale, N.Y./St. Anthony's) also returns with four career starts in goal.

"We're strong right up the middle with seniors in those spots, and they're all two-, three- and four-year starters," Pivirotto said. "That type of experience is huge. They know what it takes to win, they're hungry and they're not satisfied with just getting to the championship game. They want more and they know we're capable of more."

Pivirotto also has seven other underclassmen who each played in at least 12 games last season, giving the squad significant depth throughout the lineup.

"Last year we had a lot of young players contribute, so now they're sophomores and juniors who have experience," Pivirotto said. "When you have that experience, but don't win a championship, you're disappointed, but now you want it more."

Scranton will begin its season on Friday, Sept. 2, at Kean at 6 p.m. in Union, N.J. The non-conference schedule also features games at Swarthmore (Sept. 6), at Misericordia (Oct. 5) and home against Penn State-Berks, each of which reached the NCAA Tournament last season. Swarthmore advanced to the Elite Eight, including a first-round win over Catholic.

"We're playing a really competitive schedule with the addition of Swarthmore and Misericordia," Pivirotto said. "That should help us in conference games. It'll help to have played those high-level teams when the first conference games begin in late September."

The Royals begin Landmark Conference play on Saturday, Sept. 24, at Moravian at 4 p.m.

The 2016 Landmark Conference women's soccer preseason poll (first-place votes in parentheses):

1. Scranton – 66 points (5)
2. Catholic – 62 points (3)
3. Elizabethtown – 46 points
4. Moravian – 32 points
5. Goucher – 20 points
6. Susquehanna – 18 points
7. Drew – 17 points
8. Juniata – 11 points

--ROYALS--