When Duquesne women’s head coach Al Alvine was asked what it’s been like since his team got back together for training and preparations for their first-ever Spring season, he didn’t mince his words.
“It’s been cold,” Alvine exclaimed, pointing out that his group has been putting in the work outdoors in January, February and now March.
Echoing the theme from many college soccer coaches and players the past few months, Alvine and his players are elated that a gameday is finally near.
The Dukes are ready to roll out a new season, finally, on Sunday when they take on crosstown rival Pitt in a non-conference match.
“It seemed like we’d never get back to this point,” Alvine remarked. “It’s been 491 days since we last played It feels good to finally be talking about a game. We’re excited to be playing an opponent. It’s our first chance to see what we can do with this team. We’re excited in every way.”
In the Fall, Alvine’s squad spent most of the time going through non-contact technical and fitness work as Duquesne’s fall season was postponed due to COVID-19.
Now that the page has turned and the spring season is here, Alvine, who’s entering his ninth season as Duquesne’s head coach, has good reason to be excited. The Dukes’ roster is almost fully intact, with just about every player from the 2019 season returning (Dukes had one graduating senior on 2019 squad) plus a number of promising freshman have been added to the mix and will be competing for playing time.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, as we’d like to settle on a rotation of 16 or 17 players,” Alvine explained.
The Dukes graduated just one player from the 2019 squad which finished with a 6-8-3 record. Each and every player who contributed to the 22 goals, 15 assists and 59 points in the 2019 campaign are back this season.
Atlantic 10 Second Team selection Deena DeBadlo (Fox Chapel) returns to the Bluff after registering nine goals. Her 22 points, including nine goals, in a single season marked the fourth-most in program history in 2019.
Debaldo’s been a constant leader and playmaker for the Dukes since she came to the Bluff as a freshman in 2017, as she’s amassed 12 goals and eight assists in 54 appearances.
“We’ll definitely be relying on her in our attack,” Alvine said. “She’s been a very good player and leader for our program the past four years.”
This is about as deep of a roster that Alvine has ever had, giving him plenty of reason to be optimistic that this could be a special spring season.
“Together they’ve been through a lot. They’ve learned a lot,” Alvine, said. “I am hoping that their experience is going to pay dividends. They’ve had to deal with plenty of adversity.”
In 2015, Alvine led the Dukes to the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship and first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament. He followed that up with two strong seasons in 2016 and 2017.
“In some ways, the 2016 and 2017 teams were better than the one that won the Championship,” Alvine said. “It was a nice mix of players, as we had some freshman and sophomores that made an impact, but we had senior leadership too.”
By the time 2018 rolled around, turned to a few large classes of underclassmen to steer them forward.
This year’s team brings back plenty of experienced players who were part of that rebuilding group in 2017 and 2018.
Seniors for this year’s team include Debaldo, Lauren Bell (Hickory HS/Beadling — 54 appearances, 8 goals and 5 assists), Kelly Donovan (defender from Garden City, NY, who started all 17 matches in 2019), Marley Smith (Norwin), who started 15 games in 2019 as a defender, Tori Kopchak (Mars), who’s been a regular contributor and part of the rotation of forwards (2 goals and 2 assists in 31 appearances), Allison Maliska, who sat out 2019 with an injury, but made 15 appearances in 2018.
Duquesne’s midfield features Hannah Nguyen (Penn Trafford), a playmaker who’s started all 34 games in her first two seasons, added three goals and three assists. Alvine boasts Nguyen as “a top midfielder in our conference” The midfield also returns the Dukes’ second leading scorer from 2019, Alexi Saturni (3 goals),
At forward, the Dukes have always brought a lot of high energy and squad rotation — and they’re pretty deep, bringing back sophomore Jaimi Araujo (4 goals and 2 assists in 2019), and the Bell sisters from Hickory High School (Hermatige, PA): Lauren, who Alvine said brings a physical presence to the attack,(2 goals and 2 assists in 2019) and younger sister Natalie (1 goal, 1 assist in 2019). Junior Lexy Kendro (Norwin), who add versatility and durability, started all 17 games in 2019, can be used in multiple positions.
It’s the junior class which Alvine points out had eight players who were freshman starters in 2018 and have stuck together, provided his program with a solid core which enhances his team’s depth and experience heading into a wild, eight-game conference dash this Spring.
Among the current group of juniors, also includes goalkeeper Megan Virgin (Canon-McMillan), who started all 17 games for the Dukes in net in 2019 after transferring from LIU. Virgin played more than 1,600 minutes, held a 1.57 goals against average and made a total of 78 saves in cementing her status as the Dukes’ primary starter in goal.
Alvine also hinted that we will likely see a few freshman crack the rotation, saying that he’s been very impressed with their contributions. Among those he mentioned included North Allegheny’s Emma Bundy, who played a key role in NA’s WPIAL winning squad in 2019. Other freshman include: Brooke Kirstein, Maddy Neundorfer (Gateway), Karley Steinher and Brianna Wons.
The Duke will have plenty of competition for spots and having quality depth will be important in season when COVID-19 implications still linger and they’ll be playing eight conference games in just a little more than a month’s time.
“We’ll have to deal with things on a week-to-week basis. That’s all you can do,” Alvine said. “Well have to be flexible. Focus on us. We’ll do everything we can to stay fresh, there will be opportunities to rotating the lineup.
Of course, Alvine’s positive outlook on his team also comes as they prepare for a challenging slate this Spring. The Dukes will play an eight-game Atlantic 10 schedule within the same pod as two of the league’s perennial top teams, St. Louis and Dayton, along with St. Bonaventure. With just four teams out of 14 in the conference qualifying for the A10 playoff tournament, every regular season match will have implications.
While Alvine said that conference matches are always going to take precedent, Duquesne’s players and coaches are looking forward to playing Pitt.
The last time they played in the regular season, the Dukes came up short, 2-0, in September 2019, at Ambrose Urbanic Field.
“This is a great opportunity to see our kids get out and play against some real competition,” Alvine added. “We’ve looked really good in our sessions so far, but it will be our first real test. We are looking forward to playing Pitt. Randy (Waldrum) and his group have done a great job over there and they’re building something and doing better.”
In light of Governor Wolf easing some of the COVID-19 restrictions on crowds at sporting events, Pitt will be able to accommodate 200 spectators for Sunday’s match.
“Pitt granted us 50 passes for the match, so it’s great that, especially for the seniors, that as they go through their last go-around, that family and friends will be able to come out for this week’s game. That means a lot, and glad we won’t be playing with empty stands.”
ATLANTIC 10 PRESEASON COACHES POLL
|Team||Points (1st Place Votes)|
|1.) Saint Louis||194 (12)|
|2.) George Washington||171 (1)|
|5.) VCU||135 (1)|
|6.) La Salle||124|
|7.) Saint Joseph’s||109|
|8.) George Mason||92|
|13.) St. Bonaventure||28|
|14.) Rhode Island||27|