It was a rainy and thunder-filled Saturday evening at Rooney Field and even with a scrimmage being cancelled minutes before, Duquesne Women’s Soccer Head Coach Al Alvine had a gleam in his eyes, a clear sign of optimism for what is to come as his team continues making strides towards Thursday’s season opener at Ohio University.
This Dukes squad includes 28 underclassmen in addition to 25 players who appeared in action a season ago and Alvine admits that it is hard not to feel rejuvenated by a group which makes him excited to go to practice every day.
“They’re a group that takes a lot of pride and responsibility in what they’re doing,” he assessed.
“Very rarely are we having to pull them in and read them the Riot Act. They know what’s expected of them, they know what the goals are, they know what the standards are. I think we’re in a good spot. The young team that we have has the year of experience and a full spring where we played a lot of games so we’re in a place now where I think we can take the next step.”
Duquesne returns 94.1% of its goals and 78.6% of its assists from a year from a season ago and it is partially why Alvine feels that the battle for time on the field is extremely competitive.
“It’s a great group of kids and they’re fun to be around, said Alvine.
“The relationship between the coaches and players is really good. It’s a close-knit group which is something you have to have if you want to be successful. You can be talented and athletic but if you don’t have players that want to go out there and play for each other day in and day out, there’s only so far you can go.”
Duquesne is a team which had a lot of the youth mature on the field from a team that learned to advance the ball past midfield by communicating and turned that into a late-season charge, earning points in three of the final four contests to make it into the Atlantic 10 Championship for the first time since 2019.
Sophomore forward Margey Brown believes that getting into the playoffs was a big in for the team as a whole, seeing that hard work and what it took to achieve both mindset and rhythm.
“We have a lot of talent and a lot of individuals that are willing to work hard and put in the work,” deduced Brown.
“Just with that, we can go far. Having some history and confidence under our belts is really going to help lead the team this year. It’s been super fun. Everyone has the same goals and same mindset this year.”
Part of taking that next day has involve two two-hour practices, meetings, film sessions and lifting, sometimes resulting in 13-hour commitments.
The day starts at 7 a.m. with a focus on specific areas of improvement. These sessions were aided by a preseason scrimmage at Robert Morris where feedback included changing the point of attack, playing through the lines and some defensive concepts.
After meetings, film sessions and lifting, there is a 6 p.m. practice which mainly involves tactical concepts within the system whether Duquesne is playing in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2. It is also playing 11-versus-11 and playing an actual game.
By all accounts, this arrangement has worked well.
“The practices this year are going super well,” Brown said. “Everyone is working the hardest that they can and practicing how we’re going to play honestly. With that amount of intensity at practice it will lead to good things during games.”
As far as the offense goes, graduate student captain Jaimi Araujo led the Dukes with five goals last year. She is back fully healthy this season.
Brown cited Araujo’s example as one which she looks to as her voice and impact continue to grow both on and off the field.
“I’ve always been the one to think that you don’t need a captain’s band to be a leader,” revealed Brown. “Every action you show on or off the field is leading the team and shaping it someway. Learning from especially Jaimi these two years has just been eye opening. She’s always there for everyone, making sure everyone is on the same page and wants the same goal in the end.”
Sophomore midfielder Mackenzie Muir also made an impact with her four goals, after overcoming an early-season injury. Her impact on the field was very noteworthy a season ago and is expected to continue.
Junior forward Emma Bundy has been a steady presence for Duquesne, but battled injury, though she was cleared Saturday and figures to continue to create space and opportunities across the field.
Another leader of this team is junior goalkeeper Maddy Neundorfer. Neundorfer earned the starting job for the first time last season, playing in all 16 games.
Her growth this year has been evident and Alvine stated in the Robert Morris scrimmage, if she was not brilliant in goal, they probably score two or three goals.
“I guess she’s the starter and we recognize that but she’s not complacent,” he determined. “She’s still the first one out to practice every day, the last one in every night, she takes a lot of pride in what she does. She has a lot of individual goals in addition to the team goals that we have. It’s been fun to watch her grow and develop in all aspects. She’s becoming quite a leader for us and somebody everyone has a ton of respect for.”
Several of Duquesne’s players made an impact last season and figure to do the same in the 2023 campaign.
This includes junior defender Karley Steinher, sophomore midfielder Libby Majka, sophomore defender Lindsay Krafchick, senior forward Cami Taylor, junior forward Brooke Kirstein, junior midfielder/defender Mackenzie Leeder, junior midfielder Ally Campanella, sophomore midfielder Emma Hospodka, sophomore defender Devin Lillis, sophomore defender Eva LaVecchia, sophomore forward Brianna Moore and sophomore forward Maya Matesa.
Additionally, Alvine cited new faces including former North Catholic standout Jayden Sharpless (Fr./MID), Anna Campanella (Gr./DEF & MID) a graduate student from Boise State, Natalie Gilbert (So./DEF) from Xavier, Reese Kershner (So. MID) who is hurt right now but she had a really good spring as players who have done well and will help the team at some point.
Defensively, Duquesne will look towards several players who did not receive as many opportunities a season ago but utilized the spring to get to another level. The competition has left a lot of options in all phases and the skillset will allow the Dukes to adapt and change based on opponents and tactics.
This is a young Duquesne team which Brown opines people look at as an easy target, but instead the side should be viewed as a talented one which will only continue to get better.
Alvine concurred with his forward stating that there is a new standard in town, and the Dukes will push towards reaching the top of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
“Obviously, our goal is to win the conference, finish in first place and worst-case scenario, host a playoff game,” concluded Alvine.
“From now on, our goal is going to be to win a conference championship. Easier said than done.”