As the Duquesne Women’s Soccer Team prepares to open its 2022 campaign with a Thursday afternoon home match against Ohio University, it does so with a mix of returning players and plenty of freshmen looking for an opportunity to contribute.
In last Thursday’s exhibition contest against Kent State, Duquesne had 31 players see the pitch which has led to 11th-year coach Al Alvine having his hands full deciding on a starting 11.
“It’s a lot of tinkering, a lot of playing with lineups,” Alvine said after the exhibition. “It’s great that everyone got the opportunity to play, but the one thing that suffers is the fluidity and the chemistry. You make one substitution and the whole chemistry on the field changes. I’m happy with the performance for the most part, but super proud of the way most of these kids played, some of them in their first game.”
Upon making this decision, Alvine admitted that those who were able to get an extended look during the spring season will have a leg up in the deciding process, but at the same time was quick not to discount any incoming freshmen, all of whom also played in the spring, just not for Duquesne.
It was a spring campaign in which Duquesne had to contend with several injuries, which allowed others to make an impact.
One of those who certainly impressed was sophomore forward Emmy Bundy. Bundy tied for high point honors with last season’s team, but her time was cut short by injury.
Though stats were not official in the spring, Bundy had seven goals in the five games and also recorded four assists, helping Duquesne win four contests, in which it did not concede any goals.
“It gave kids who are kids we’re going to be counting on a chance to get to another level and I think you saw that with Emma Bundy this spring,” said Alvine. “You saw in the spring a big part of the reason that we struggled to score goals down the stretch was not having her. She’s a big part of our program moving forward.”
For her part, Bundy took the opportunity this past spring presented as a challenge.
“It was definitely a challenge to get in shape and back on the field, but I was really motivated to get back out there and play with my teammates again,” she said. “I think the spring was a really good opportunity for me to take advantage of everything I’ve been working on over my freshman and sophomore year at Duquesne.”
Another big takeaway from the spring was an extended look at sophomore goalkeeper Maddy Neundorfer, who is the lone returner in net from a season ago.
Neundorfer went the distance in all five preseason games and her confidence and dialogue in goal certainly left an impression on Duquesne’s staff, with Alvine calling her the “hardest-working kid on the team” after the spring season.
“She’s been biding her time, waiting for her chance,” Alvine said. “We always told her that her time was going to come. As a goalkeeper you get frustrated at points, and everyone is competitive. She understood her role before now she’s in goal. She did extra training, extra strength and conditioning sessions and we saw the results. She’s got some special ability.”
Neundorfer is competing with George Mason transfer Savanna Keppy and freshman Tess Hopkins for the starting keeper job.
Also among those returning are junior forward Jaimi Araujo, whose aggression figures to play an important role in Duquesne’s attack, senior defender Ashley Rodriguez who has grown as a leader, while being a steady force on the back end, sophomore defender Karley Steinher who scored nine points a season ago despite missing the final six contests and senior midfielder Sarah Wilkinson, a steady captain who has played in all 59 games in her Duquesne career, starting 56 of them.
From a preseason perspective, Duquesne is being viewed as an underdog, a statement evidenced by a 10th placement in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll. The Dukes also did not receive any preseason player recognition.
Alvine concedes that there certainly has been a learning curve across the board with this team as he seeks to find the right combinations and hopes to push the proper buttons.
When the team first met together, Alvine explicitly told everyone that each spot was up for grabs, and nothing was guaranteed. As a result, the environment became far more competitive with everyone battling for a spot.
“That’s the nature of the game,” said Alvine. “It’s really important that everyone knows where they stand. It’s about being honest and upfront. The reality is with the team that we have, we travel and have a travel roster of 22 players. We’re going to be leaving some good players at home, that’s the reality of it. The potential is good.”
For those who end up not immediately factoring into those plans, Alvine explicitly stated how crucial it is that they do not lose sight of the biggest picture.
As Duquesne prepares for its season to begin, it does so with an understanding that games have meaning and the urgency of achieving a positive result that comes with it.
“They get it and they’re excited,” he said. “They see the potential of what they’re capable of. They’re raring to go.”