PREVIEW | Women's Soccer Ready to Defend Conference Championship in 2018

Photo courtesy of Quinn Fitzgerald
Photo courtesy of Quinn Fitzgerald

FRANKLIN, Ind. – The Franklin College women's soccer team made history in 2017, becoming the first squad in program history to capture a conference tournament championship and earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

The chance to repeat is enough to generate excitement for any team and this year's Grizzlies are no exception. For second-year head coach Cristin Allen, the challenge early on in camp is managing that excitement while keeping their sights set on the task at hand for the 2018 season.

"The anticipation of getting on the field and getting the nerves out early in camp was important," Allen said. "It helped calm some nerves I thought we might have coming into camp. There's lots of excitement coming into this year but we know we have to stay focused on this year as opposed to re-hashing what we did last year."

In order to replicate last year's success, the Grizzlies will have to fill the void left by a graduating senior class that were all valuable contributors to Franklin's success. The most experienced group on the field will be on the attack, where Franklin welcomes back senior All-American striker Maddie Fleet and junior Taylor McDaniel to head up the offense. Fleet is coming off her third straight season of at least 24 goals and sits 26 tallies shy of 100 for her career.

McDaniel was named Second Team All-HCAC a year ago after scoring five goals and adding six assists and gives the Grizzlies another dangerous player in the attacking zone. The duo are joined by junior Jalynn Gorman, senior Rachel Hawkins up front, giving the Grizzlies an extremely potent veteran group that can put the ball in the net. More importantly, that group has been vital to helping their teammates in other areas of the field come along in training camp.

"We're lucky to have the caliber of players on the attack that have allowed us to focus more on our organization in our own zone," Allen added. "There's a calmness about our attack that we know we're going to figure it out. Additionally, our players have been extra coaches on the field for our newcomers and that's been a huge help."

In the midfield and on defense is where the most turnover will occur in 2018, as Franklin looks to replace seven senior starters from a year ago. Baylee Giesting, Jesse Hearne and Cayla Crawford return for their sophomore seasons and are in the mix to earn bigger minutes in the midfield. The three will be joined by freshmen Emma Foley, Samantha Stone, Madison Short in battle for playing time at holding mid and attacking mid.

The defense will be anchored by two-time HCAC all-conference goalkeeper Lexi Short, who will be looked to provide her traditionally steady goalkeeping and be a guiding force for the Grizzlies' young back line. Short went 14-5 with an 0.84 goals against average and six shutouts a year ago.

Defensively, only senior center back Olivia Fisher remains from last year's starting back line. Senior Sydney Secrest, sophomore Taylor Neely and freshmen Riley Sexton and Mackenzie Yoder enter camp as the other defenders listed on the roster, and will all have a chance to earn minutes as the Grizzlies aim to be playing their best defense when the games matter the most.

"Our message to our players is that an empire wasn't built in a day," Allen closed. "We've told them that there are going to be mistakes but we know that players learn best from their mistakes. Early on, we want our kids to get comfortable playing with each other and focusing on the process so we're ready to get wins in October."

Franklin begins the 2018 season on Saturday, Sept. 1, when they hit the road to take on Concordia (Wis.). Kick-off is set for 1:00 p.m. eastern time.