Last season, the Duquesne women’s soccer team appeared to be headed for its second Atlantic 10 Championship finals appearance in the past three seasons but with 1:08 remaining in the second half of a semifinal contest against top-seeded La Salle, the Explorers converted a loose ball in the Dukes’ box into the back of the net squaring the match.
Duquesne would lose the game in overtime.
“I think everybody thought we were the better team,” Duquesne coach Al Alvine said. “We were seconds away from winning that game. The returners really have a sour taste in their mouths with how that game ended and are looking to rectify things this year. This is their last chance, so I think they will be ready.”
The setback has brought a determined focus from the returning players which has been ingrained into the 14 freshman players in an effort to earn Duquesne’s second-ever Atlantic 10 Championship.
Duquesne will be tested early on in its non-conference schedule traveling to the Penn State Invitational to play Arkansas and fourth-ranked Penn State.
In addition Duquesne will have a road battle against ranked #24 Ohio State and home contests against a Binghamton team which won 11 matches last year and a Saint Francis team which won 10.
Alvine consistently tries to schedule a tough non-conference schedule in order to properly prepare for Atlantic 10 play, something which has served his team well in recent years.
Still, Alvine does concede that scheduling tough opponents can have the adverse effect of losing confidence if both play and results do not go as planned.
“It’s a balancing act. It’s something you have to consider,” he said. “We’ve set ourselves up where that might be a circumstance this season, but we have really good leadership. I think our kids realize that we’re going to try to win every single game that we play. The bottom line is, we’re not scared to play against anyone and go toe-to-toe with them. We have nothing to lose. There’s something to be said for challenging yourself early.”
This season, Duquense has a senior class led by senior keeper Kyra Murphy, midfielder Casey Aunkst, midfielder Abby Losco and senior forward Katie O’Connor. Aunkst, Murphy and Losco are among 14 players from Western PA on the Dukes roster.
Already Murphy has the Duquesne record for wins and goals against average while becoming a consistent voice to help position her team.
Aunkst was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Conference First Team and Alvine contends she is the best center back in the conference and has been a steady force. Aunkst never played center back before putting on a Duquesne uniform, stepping in where she was needed.
Losco has been referred to as the glue that keeps the team together and while she may not have the numbers some of her fellow seniors have amassed, Alvine stated he can make a case that she is equally vital when compared to the other seniors.
O’Connor has scored the most goals in Duquesne women’s soccer history and is someone opponents consistently have to gameplan for because she can run down practically any loose ball, doing so with a smile on her face.
With 14 freshman on Duquesne’s roster, the seniors immediately have tried to take on mentoring roles to ensure any and all of the newcomers are ready whenever called upon.
In Duquesne’s preseason contest against Cleveland State, six freshmen started and this may be something which consistently occurs throughout the season. Alvine stated that at least 3-4 freshman will need to start this season.
“After what I saw (in Thursday’s preseason game), if they keep progressing at this rate, they’ll take to it like a duck to water,” said Alvine. “I have no reservations about putting any of those kids in the game at this point.”
Last year as freshmen, Lauren Bell, Deena DeBaldo and Missy Moore all earned starting minutes and significant playing time. This has been the norm for Alvine who believes if you are good enough, you are old enough.
“I guess there are a lot of coaches out there that won’t play freshmen or use them very sparingly, but for me, I never paid attention to what year someone is,” he said. “Some of our seniors now, all started and played most of the season as freshmen. It’s nothing new. When they’re good enough to help us, they’re good enough to help us. We have a lot of kids in that group that are good enough to help us.”
Assessing all of the above, Alvine has made his team’s goal very clear. The expectation moving forward is to win an Atlantic 10 Championship.
“That’s the goal every year,” said Alvine. “Making it to the semifinals or making it to the finals is just not good enough for us anymore. We need to win the whole thing, especially this year with this group of seniors. They keep talking about wanting to bookend championships so that’s the goal.”