For the women’s soccer team, the 2006 season ended a game too early. After an 18-2-1 season, the Spartans fell to eighth-ranked Grand Valley State (Mich.) in the National Semifinal. The 2-0 loss left Tampa one win shy of the National Championship game.
There was a familiar face in the other semifinal game that week. Gerry Lucey, a Tampa assistant coach from 2004-2005, was the head coach of West Chester University (Pa).
Lucey’s Golden Rams were the only undefeated team at the NCAA tournament.
After Tampa’s Bobby Johnston resigned last spring, Lucey was hired in early May to take over a program he had helped shape a few years back.
“I’m delighted to be back here,” said Lucey. “It has always been a dream to be a coach here at UT. I didn’t think the opportunity would come so quickly.”
In May, a few important pieces of Tampa’s 2006 success left the program. Malana Winskas, the only four-time Sunshine State Conference Defender of the Year, graduated. So did Samantha Robinson, who could often be seen streaking up the right side of the field past all the defenders. Robinson led the team with 18 assists in 2006.
Jocelyn Charette, last year’s SSC Freshman of the Year, scored 21 goals and has not returned to the team this year. She has gone home to Seattle, but is not on any active roster.
Despite the departures, a number of key players remain from last year’s Final Four team. Shelby Kuni, a third-team All-American, holds the conference record for goals in a single season. She scored 26 times last year.
Shannon Aitken, a second-team All-American, recorded 11 shutouts in 21 games last season. She gave up only 14 goals while stopping 54 shots.
Lucey named Aitken, Kuni, Katie Callahan and Nicole Murphy as players who will highly influence this season’s success.
“This team needs to be as focused as they were last season,” said Lucey. “I want to make sure they have the confidence in themselves and the individual ability to take a step past what we did last year.”
This season’s schedule features a series of road games followed by a series of home games. After Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Nova Southeastern, Tampa doesn’t play a home match until Sept. 29 against Lynn.
In 2006, the Spartans only conference loss came against Barry. The Buccaneers will travel to Pepin Stadium to face Tampa on Oct. 19 in the Spartans’ last home match of the season. This match is during homecoming week.
On Oct. 16, Tampa faces Saint Leo University, the only other SSC team to appear in the national preseason rankings. The Lions were ranked 19th.
The Spartans have won the SSC the last two years. Local media and coaches picked Tampa to finish first again.
“The SSC is still a tough conference,” said Lucey. “There are no real easy games. If you don’t come prepared then you’re always in for a battle. There’s a huge bullseye on our jerseys and we have to approach each game equally.”
The team picked up in the 2007 season as though it had never stopped in 2006. In the first match of the year, Tampa rolled past 21st-ranked Columbus State (Ga.) in a 4-0 victory. A few days later, the Spartans took down SSC foe NSU 2-1. Tampa will face the Sharks again in early October in Fort Lauderdale.
The players seem to be responding well to their new coach, who is familiar to some and a stranger to others.
“Gerry was our assistant for two years in 2004 and 2005 so he knows most of us pretty well,” said senior Nicole Murphy. “His coaching philosophies are very similar to Bobby [Johnston]’s. I know that he is a good coach, not only from personal experience, but also he did bring his team from West Chester to the Final Four last year.”
Any good team can overcome graduating stars and changing coaches. This year’s women’s soccer team has the talent and ability go above and beyond the 2006 season. Believers are welcome to book a late November trip to Orange Beach, Ala.