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August 27 - BETHANY, W.Va. – After posting their highest victory total last year since capturing the 1999 PAC Championship, the Bethany women’s soccer team seeks to take another step and gain a berth in the conference tournament in 2009.

Last year, although BC finished 7-8-4, a four-win improvement from the year before and the most victories for the program since going 12-9 on their way to the league crown in 1999, they finished one spot out of the PAC Tournament in fifth place. However, this season, nine of their top 10 scorers return and mixed with 11 newcomers, the Bison seem poised to break through and earn a postseason bid for the first time since 2004.
According to third-year head coach Barry Christmas, the returning and first-year players are meshing pretty well and things should get even smoother from here.

“Preseason has been good,” said Christmas. “The incoming and returning players have adapted fine to this point. It will take some more time but as soon as the games open up and there becomes a routine, the players will settle in I’m sure.”

The Bison’s strength last season was their defense, as they set a new single-season school record with six shutouts. They will have a new face in goal, as freshman Brittany Sadler (New Eagle, Pa./Ringgold) will step in, but the defensive corps will have a solid blend of returning players and newcomers. Highlighting the veterans is sophomore Brea Thrower (Saxonburg, Pa./Knoch), who started 18 of the 19 matches she played in, seniors Megan Cook (Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Central), Kortni Collins (Newton Falls, Ohio) and junior Joanna Mongelluzzo (Washington, Pa./Trinity). Also back is senior Amber Yarnell (Wooster, Ohio), who has missed the last two seasons because of injury and a year in the study abroad program, and sophomore Mackenzie McCune (Uniontown, Pa.).

They are joined by talented newcomers in Jen Gallo (Alta Loma, Calif.), Brittany Bizila (Moon Twp., Pa./Moon), Brittany Marsh (Bunker Hill, W.Va./Musselman), Colleen McNurlen (Washington, Pa./McGuffey), Mari Kolanko (Weirton, W.Va./Weirton Madonna) and Ashley Wright (Coshocton, Ohio/River View).

“We’ll have a new keeper this year in Brittany Sadler,” said Christmas. “She has strong previous experience, so it will be exciting to see how she progresses.

“In front of her, Brea returns with others like Megan, Kortni, Joanna, Mackenzie from an injury redshirt year and Amber returns from the study abroad program,” said Christmas. “Add in a healthy group of newcomers in Jen, Brittany, Brittany, Colleen, Mari and Ashley and defending options are high.”

The midfield will be anchored by upperclassmen, led by junior Lisa Wabrick (Washington, Pa./Canon-McMillan), who had four goals and three assists last year. Other top scorers back on the field include sophomores Loren McAnany (Claysville, Pa./McGuffey), who totaled five goals and two assists last year, Breane Minardi (Monessen, Pa.), who totaled three goals and one assists despite missing seven games because of injury, and Missy Baldwin (Belle Vernon, Pa.), who passed out a team-best five assists.

Four other sophomores are back after providing strong play in the midfield a season ago, including Kaitlyn Black (Pittsburgh, Pa./Chartiers Valley), Hilary Clark (Claysville, Pa./McGuffey), Kristen Cottrill (Hurricane, W.Va.) and Katie Hobbs (Wheeling, W.Va./Linsly). The lone freshman battling for time in the middle is Justine Lechner (Wheeling, W.Va./Linsly).

“We have a lot of players returning in the midfield who gave us solid results last year and will present quite a few options this season,” said Christmas.

Up front, Bethany’s attack will be paced by a pair of younger players and two seniors. Sophomore Cassie Spalding (Claysville, Pa./McGuffey) tallied 11 goals and two assists on her way to First Team All-PAC status. She became the first Bison freshman to earn First Team accolades since 2000 and her 11 goals was the most by a first-year player since Missy Miller struck for 14 in 1992.

Other forward options for Bethany include senior Rachael Katsur (Pittsburgh, Pa./Woodland Hills), who missed all of last year because of injury, senior Suzy Ruckel (Ontario, Calif./Chaffey) and freshman Julie Lindenfelser (South Park, Pa.).

“We return three players up front and with one freshman, we have a nice mix of options,” said Christmas. “Cassie is back, along with Rachael and Suzy and Julie will be in the mix as well.”

Christmas says the development of the team last year was a good sign that they are taking the right steps, but also believes a total team effort will be needed to clear the next hurdle and make the PAC Tournament.

“We experienced some progress last year and have a strong desire to continue along that path,” said Christmas. “Our aim will be to break into the top four in the PAC so that we are involved in the conference tournament. The last two seasons, we have been fifth and to make that step would be a success.  Individually and collectively we need to take responsibility for our roles and ensure we apply ourselves to accomplish them.”