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Women's Soccer Season Preview: Predicting the Starting Lineup

Matt Gritzmacher

Compared to my guesses at the Men's Soccer starting lineup, I have few advantages when doing the same today for the Women's team. Coach Burke's lineup was more predictable and static than Coach Riddle's, the newcomers whom I expect to make an instant impact slot in nicely to existing holes from graduation, and I've just seen more of Women's Soccer than I have the men.

We also may be able to draw some insight from the starting lineup in the scrimmage against Cleveland State, but I won't hold that to gospel, for reasons I'll mostly articulate below.

That said, I'll start with the same process, identifying in bold those players who I think are a lock to start the season opener against St. Joseph's, in (parentheses) those who have no chance, and with an asterisk* those who started last year.

Forwards: Rebecca Bramble, Celina Carrero*, Carissima Cutrona, N'Dea Johnson, Alex Lambert

Midfielders: Julia Benati*, Nicole Gerritz (M/F), Kori Hughes (M/D), Kassidy Kidd*, Dana Lytle, Jessica Marlowe (M/D), Moira Petrie, Rachel Villalta

Defenders: Isabella Borini, Ashley Evans (D/M), Jackie Hall*, Angel Hart*, Kayla Hospodka, Kristin Markiewicz*, Andrea Niper (D/M), Brianna Shingary, Meghan Simmons (D/M)

Goalkeepers: (Cassie Betancourt), Laura Dougall*, (McKenzie White)

***

We don't need to raise any question about formation, other than if the forwards will move a little from last year, as no one on the roster can play quite the same in the middle as Katie Roberts did. Here's what it looks like with the bolded names above filled in:

Cutrona      Carrero
Petrie
Kidd                                            Benati
?????
Hart                ?????               Hall             ?????
Dougall

From this, consider Cutrona and Carrero to be interchangeable and more free-ranging than Roberts was last year. Two weeks ago I might have entertained the idea that Cutrona, just a redshirt freshman with no on-field NCAA experience despite an eye-popping high school career, might start on the bench, but then she took three shots in 30 minutes in the exhibition. Only Roberts averaged three shots a game last season. If you make things like that happen, you start.

I was ready to flip a coin between Petrie and Niper for that attacking midfielder role in the middle, but Niper started in defense on Tuesday. Of course, Alex Lambert started on defense against Cleveland State last year, was listed at defense the rest of the season, and was still a regular sub in the attacking third. Still, I think Niper's size and aggressiveness make her a good option to throw in the back line mix, and that move allows both her and Petrie to see the field.

Kidd and Benati, it ain't broke so there's no fixin' to be done there.

The back five is much harder to predict. Hall is a lock, and I read nothing more into her not starting on Tuesday than it opening up space for Niper and Ashley Evans to both work at centerback. Once upon a time, I thought Angel Hart was the perfect fit to move in as holding midfielder, but Kristin Markiewicz (who played the same position, just the other side, as Hart) started there Tuesday, and that makes plenty of sense given her ability to bring the ball up and connection with the midfielders last year.

The problem, then, is it's a little harder to fill in a fullback position than it'd be the central holding midfielder, which could accommodate defenders moving up into a wider-ranging role, or midfielders moving back into a position that demanded more measured responsibility. Freshman Brianna Shingary started there on Tuesday, and I like the idea but am wary of the position switch not holding, as happened last year. Dana Lytle could bring the pace and upfield vision, but is labeled only as a midfielder this year. The only data I have to go on are the Tuesday starters, and not who shuffled in over the course of the scrimmage to impress or disappoint. For now, let's pencil in Lytle and her experience while acknowledging that it's a weak guess.

That leaves just the open space next to Hall, and as I said above, I suspect that Evans and Niper both starting Tuesday was a chance for each to lock that spot down. The first 30 minute period was UB's best defensively, with Cleveland State managing only one easy long-range shot, so I'm happy to pick between the two. Evans played the position in her prep career, while Niper played more last year in a variety of roles. It's a coin flip, but I'll go with Niper for now and not be surprised if it's Evans.

That gives us:

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When it comes to subs, I expect Lambert will be the first option to give the forwards a rest, but N'Dea Johnson is a wildcard. I wouldn't be surprised to see Rebecca Bramble at any point. With Lytle and Niper penciled in elsewhere, there's not a ton of experienced midfielders on the bench, but Kori Hughes and Jessica Marlowe both have time in the program if no on-field experience last year. Lambert could come in for Petrie, and if Lytle isn't the option on defense, I'd expect her to sub on the wings. On the back end, Evans will get time somewhere, even if as a sub, and I'm still high enough on Meghan Simmons' resume to hope for immediate minutes from her.

The forwards and attacking midfielders are easy to predict. Going further back, when the best apparent options to fill in the holes in the lineup leave holes elsewhere, it gets messier, in part because it's hard to trust the lineup in an exhibition. Here I've favored on-field experience over everything else, but Coach Burke could go a few different directions until a few set themselves above the pack.

Go Bulls