The UMBC women's soccer team's season came to an end last Friday when the squad fell to No. 4 Virginia Tech, 2-0, in the first round of the NCAA tournament. But the finish did not diminish what the program had achieved in 2013.
The Retrievers (13-6-2) set a program record for wins in a season, captured their first America East regular-season and tournament championships and made their first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
It was a remarkable reversal for the program that had incurred losing records every year from 2006 to 2012, never won more than four games in a single season over that stretch, and suffered at least 10 losses every season.
“We have now set the stage, and they have kind of cleared the path to get to the NCAA tournament,” coach Leslie Wray said Monday morning. “Now we know what it’s like, and we expect to be back there. To have that experience is crucial when you go into big games like that.”
Wray may be guilty of setting an extremely high bar for next year’s squad, but she pointed out that the objective of every team is to grow and progress, not shrink and regress.
“I think it’s a fair burden on the players, the coaching staff,” she said. “Our expectations have accelerated significantly. This year, I said to them, ‘We have exceeded my expectations. But now going into next year, this is where our expectations have to be set.’ We’re looking to win the conference tournament and continue this ride and continue making progress like we have. I think there is that pressure that comes from, ‘Ok, we made it this year. Next year, we should be able to make it again.’ But you never know what’s going to happen. This team is so special. We’re never going to have a season like we had this year where it was a Cinderella story. Next year, we might have more of a target on our backs, there’s going to be more expectations. That always comes into play when you’re dealing with team sports. But our philosophy is not going to change. We’re still going to have that hard work rate, and we hope we get those results that we need.”
Wray’s confidence may be rooted in next fall’s team. Nine starters return, including sophomore forward Alexa Quaranta (eight goals and one assist) and junior midfielder Jessy Brown (seven goals and two assists).
UMBC must replace a pair of senior starters in goalkeeper Lauren Kadet (program’s all-time leader in saves with 397) and forward Stephanie Smith. But Wray is hopeful that players will fill the void next season.
“Every team is different year to year,” she said. “… We certainly have a decent amount of players on the team that are strong leaders. So we’ll be looking to see who arises and comes up to the top in the spring.”