St. Mary’s University and head coach Corwin Ritch enter the 2007 season with a cautious optimism. The Rattlers finished the 2006 season by going 8-2-2, helping them to a second place finish in the Heartland Conference. Despite the losses of five starters, Ritch is confident that the Rattlers will be in the thick of the fight for the conference title again this season.
“Based on last year’s performance, we are planning to rebuild and improve,” Ritch said. “We’re hoping that the players we are bringing back can fill the holes in our starting lineup.”
Leading the way for the Rattlers in their quest to build on last season is one of the top midfields in the region. Seniors Margaret Kaderli, Deann Lopez and Alyssa Valdez, along with junior Marcey Morales, are all returning starters at the position and should help give the Rattlers stability.
“The midfield will be our strength this season,” Ritch said. “It’s going to be the heart and soul of our team.”
Kaderli, a senior from nearby Fredericksburg, made an immediate impact after transferring to St. Mary’s for the 2006 season. She scored five goals and added three assists to finish first on the squad in points scored.
Lopez, entering her fourth season with the Rattlers, earned ESPN the Magazine/CoSIDA Academic All-District honors and was Heartland Conference Defensive Player of the Week once. The El Paso native was third on the team in points with 12 and led the squad with four assists.
Valdez, also an El Paso native, had her best season in 2006. She played in all 19 games, posting two goals and an assist. Morales, a junior from nearby Lytle, established herself as a starter in the midfield last season. She played in all 19 games, scoring three goals and picking up two assists. In her two-year career she already has seven assists, the most for any Rattler over that time.
While the midfield is definitely the team’s strength, the defense is an area of concern heading into the season. The loss of goalkeeper Lily Cano means that the Rattlers will have a freshman in goal this season. Jamie Montero and Carisa Trousdale will battle it out for the starting nod. The loss of Kelly Dembicer to graduation also hurts the defense, but returning starters Toni Tullius and Elizabeth Redman, along with Kelly Dowd and Michelle Romero, will help to solidify the backfield.
“We lost two starters, which is a blow, but with Toni (Tullius) and Lizzie (Redmond) coming back we have a good foundation,” Ritch said. “We just need the other returnees and our newcomers to step up and fill the holes we have.”
Tullius, a senior from El Paso, earned All-Heartland honors last season and has played in 59 games over the last three years; giving St. Mary’s a very experienced starter. Elizabeth Redmond, a junior from San Dimas, Calif., was one of the Rattler steadiest players in her first season with the team. Dowd, a junior from Plano, was one of the Rattlers top reserves, coming off the bench in 18 games. Romero, a sophomore from El Paso, made her mark on the team as a freshman last season, playing in 17 games.
Offensively the Rattlers lost all-time leading scorer Kyle Hyslop, as well as Erin McCutcheon to graduation. But Elizabeth Hoffman and Amanda McMullan lead a strong core of players looking to pick up the offensive slack this season.
“It’s going to be interesting on offense this season,” Ritch said. “We have two very experienced players back and two freshmen that will need to learn the system. I think we’ll be fine, we just need some time to get things in place.”
McMullan, a junior from Allen, had a break out year in 2006, playing in all 19 games and working her way into the starting lineup by the end of the season. Hoffman, a junior from Plano, was slowed in 2006 by off season surgery and was never 100 percent. With a full offseason to recover Ritch is hoping to see Hoffman back to the form that allowed her score five goals as a freshman in 2005. Ritch will also be counting on early contributions from freshmen Christina Mercedes and Brandi Battles this season, due to a lack of experienced offensive players.
The team will have little time to settle in though, as they face one of the toughest schedules in the region again this season. After a relatively light early schedule the Rattlers will face four teams likely to be ranked in the region in 2007. They open with non-conference tilts at home against Georgian Court (N.J.) and first year team Abilene Christian University, before hitting the road to take on Eastern New Mexico University and NCAA Division I school, the University of Texas-El Paso.
After that is when the road trip gets interesting. St. Mary’s will face regional power West Texas A&M University in Canyon, then takes on Angelo State University in San Angelo. After playing their first Heartland Conference game of the season at the University of Texas-Permian Basin, the Rattlers will make the relatively short trip to Austin to face defending conference champion St. Edward’s. The Rattlers return home, but will take on Texas A&M University-Commerce and the University of Central Oklahoma, both regionally ranked in 2006. Along with a return trip to San Antonio by St. Edward’s, the Rattlers will face cross-town rival the University of the Incarnate Word and a tough Heartland Conference slate this season.
“We always try to put together a tough schedule,” Ritch said. We feel that we are one of the best teams in the region and to prove that you have to play the best teams in the region.”
If the Rattlers are to accomplish Ritch’s goals for them, they will need to bond quickly. But with the success of the team since Ritch took over in 2001, prospects look good for another finish among the elite in the Heartland Conference and South Central Region in 2007.