There's plenty reason to be optimistic about Women's Soccer's title defense in 2015 despite significant losses to graduation. A corollary to the 'returning experience' mantra is that not only do the Bulls bring back seven starters and a handful of former subs who got substantial minutes last year, but they do so with representation from all classes, rather than a senior-heavy roster.
It was clear in the strength of his defense in 2013 and in his hire that Coach Burke had chemistry with the team. Even so, to find an impact freshman, let alone two, after a coaching turnover is rare in any sport. Laura Dougall in goal racked up the numbers, the fun stats, and the publicity, but she was joined on the MAC All-Freshman team at season's end by Julia Benati.
Benati made her case for inclusion early and often, with the season's first goal in a 1-0 win over St. Bonaventure (at :35 in the video above) and a pair of assists against Bowling Green and a second game-winner two days later against Eastern Michigan in an eye-opening performance from the Bulls early in the MAC slate. All told, Julia would tie for fourth in the conference with three assists in MAC play, finishing the season with three goals and four assists. Her ten points were third on the team, behind forwards Roberts and Celina Carrero.
Those stats alone should have been good enough to crack the All-Freshman team, but they don't highlight Benati's biggest contributions in the UB midfield and attack. She quietly started in each of UB's 22 games on the season, and will almost certainly do so again in 2015 thanks to her extremely high work rate and pace of play.
As good as the defense was, it started with a midfield that dominated possession. Benati is a hawk for loose balls, makes decisions quickly once she gains possession, and maintains that high energy through the whole game: two of her four assists came on game-winning goals, and three in the second half. After Roberts, it was Benati, not Carrero or Kassidy Kidd, who took the most shots on the team, and she would finish with more shots than all but four others in the conference.
Simply put, Julia Benati makes things happen. She wasn't necessarily unlucky in turning shots into goals when compared to UB's other midfielders, but given the volume she's working with, even a slight uptick could mean a few more goals on the year.
While I'm not sure how the forwards will quite shake out, and the central midfield roles also need filling, there's no reason to expect a change from Benati's 2014 role. I don't ever remember her moving into the center last year, and given her strong freshman season there's no reason for her to move down the pecking order on the wing. She and Kassidy Kidd opposite each other on the outside edges of the midfield seems inevitable. It will be interesting to see what chemistry develops with the new central midfielders, but between Carrero in front and Markiewicz/Angel Hart behind, there's returning familiarity as well for the sophomore.