Chestnut Hill College women’s soccer team tri-captains (from left) Lauren Riiff, Lauren Brown, and Shannon Catts. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Late last week the women’s soccer team at Chestnut Hill College participated in their first practice sessions under new management. Sandy Dickson, coming off of a long and successful tenure at Bloomsburg University, has taken the reins from former head coach Seamus O’Connor, who is now an assistant coach at Temple University [see 8/4/11 LOCAL].

Early this month, the Griffin women enjoyed a working vacation that had been arranged some months back by O’Connor, a native of County Galway in Ireland. The CHC squad traveled to the Emerald Isle for a week-and-a-half, playing three matches and conducting a youth clinic while also soaking in Irish history and culture. Former mentor O’Connor had to opt out of the trip, but the college’s new basketball coach, Laura Mullally Pruitt, is also originally from Galway and she stepped in as tour guide for the Griffins. Returning assistant coach Stephanie Williams, a former CHC player, provided guidance for the group on the “football” pitch.

The team returned stateside and began practice last week with high expectations. Last fall the CHC women turned in a record of 10-1-1 in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference and 14-4-2 overall, earning the second seed for the CACC tournament and reaching the semifinals before losing, 2-1, to eventual champion Georgian Court University.

“They’re working really hard – I’ve been super-impressed,” Coach Dickson reported last weekend. “We have a great core group, and the freshmen are blending in and bringing something new to the mix. It’s a very coachable group; you tell them something once and they’re doing it right away.”

Leading scorer Lauren Riiff (14G/4A), a senior forward, and 2010 team MVP Lauren Brown, a senior defender, are team tri-captains this year along with junior defender Shannon Catts. Riiff and Brown were named to the 2010 All-CACC first team, along with conference Rookie of the Year Carly DiGiovanni (now a sophomore midfielder), and junior goalie Jessica Veazey, who was second in the conference in goals-against average (0.77 per game). DiGiovanni and another member of last year’s freshman class, defender Lauren Nolte, were selected for the CACC All-Tournament Team.

Coach Dickson feels her squad is flexible enough to employ different formations in varying circumstances, and skilled enough to play a possession style of game.

“We’re going to keep the ball on the grass and knock it around, and attack with numbers,” she said. “Timing, in terms of getting people forward, is going to be big for us. We’re going to try to have our whole team attacking, so we’re not relying only on the forwards to score.”

Chestnut Hill’s first four opponents are all members of the Pa. State Athletic Conference, and among them is the team headed by Dickson for 13 seasons, Bloomsburg.

“Obviously, I know the PSAC, and those will be good games to prepare us for our own conference,” said the new skipper. “The PSAC teams are always physical and athletic.”

I’m already getting a good team vibe and a sense of chemistry with our group,” she added. “They seem to be very determined, and willing to do whatever it takes to reach their goals.”


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