With the exception of a lopsided playoff loss, on the road, to the Queen's Gaels, Laurentian women's soccer coach Rob Gallo had little reason to complain in 2013. Taking a relatively young team blessed with a couple of key experienced defensive stalwarts, the Voyageurs posted a record of 6-3-7, finishing in fifth place in the OUA East.
"I didn't think that we would only have three losses in 16 games with a young crew," said Gallo, as the hectic week of training camp practices wrapped up recently. "We had an established defence, which was critical for us, and we had solid goaltending - so we built from the back out."
"We proved that we could defend," Gallo added. "The seven ties that we had proved that we couldn't score. The priority after 2013 was to look to get better offensively."
While the only head coach that the L.U. program has ever known is confident that he can tick that one off the "to do" list, the graduation of the Laurentian 2013 Female Athlete of the Year will create some challenges.
"When you lose a player and leader like Amy Pitton, the stability at the back end takes a hit," Gallo said. "You're putting a lot of pressure on two second years and two third years."
But as was the case one year ago, the last line of defence is very well fortified. With five shutouts to her credit in 2013, Richele Greenwood returns as the number one keeper, with Dina Mandelosi and Laura van de Valk both back and fighting for playing time.
The interior of the back-line is built around third year defenders Amy Fitzgerald and Sudbury native Gabby Conrad, with Heather Gilbert looking to continue her development after earning team rookie of the year honours at left outside fullback.
Sydney Emanuel and Megan Gallo also prepare for their sophomore year, with rookie recruit Ally Pilon and walk-on Kristy Walton out of Bradford all expected to see the field.
St Charles College graduate and co-captain Madison Beaudry will help anchor the midfield, resuming her role as a holding midfielder, with sophomores Vanessa Cesario and Alex Ross also pencilled in to starting slots.
Behind the trio, 2013 rookie Melissa Ayotte and newcomers Sara Fitzgerald, Brynn Kosteniuk and Samantha Selkirk have all showed positive signs early.
But the biggest step forward, for the Voyageur ladies, will likely come up front. Only veterans Julie Lopez (team captain) and Amanda Kwan would appear to be safe, with the freshman class of Sarah Sanford, Lindsay Green, Michelle Walsh and Lindsay Hummelbrunner all pushing hard.
The move of the UOIT Ridgebacks to the OUA East has not made life any easier, with six of the ten teams qualifying for the post-season. Yet more than ever, coach Gallo is convinced that he has the horses that are capable of matching up with each and every opponent they will encounter.
"Our goal is to compete in every single game, with the only focus to win," said Gallo. "Then, we look forward to the next game."