Emily Banes

Towson University Senior forward Emily Banes. (Rich Riggins / For The Baltimore Sun / August 23, 2013)

It is still early, but the Towson women’s soccer team is positioning itself for its first appearance in a conference tournament since 2001.

With a 2-2 record in the Colonial Athletic Association, the Tigers (7-6-1 overall) currently sit in fifth place in the league. The top six teams qualify for the conference tournament.

The program has never qualified for the CAA tournament since joining the league for the 2002 campaign. The school played in six America East and Big South tournaments between 1992 and 2001, but reaching the CAA tournament would be a significant accomplishment.

“I think it would be very meaningful,” junior midfielder Taylor Knier said Tuesday. “I think this year is kind of our year. Our back line is experienced with me and [sophomore defender] Vasthy [Delgado] in the back. [Junior goalkeeper Erin] Quinn has a year under her belt. … We have the offense, we have the defense, we’re in the right mindset and we’re working very hard. So I think bouncing back after the season we had last year, it would be extremely rewarding to make the tournament.”

Last fall, Towson limped its way to a 1-15-2 record. A new assistant coaching staff and a lack of chemistry were contributing factors.

“It was a hard one,” senior forward Emily Banes said of 2012. “I think we lacked a lot of team unity, and I think that had a lot to do with our season being the way it was.”

Coach Greg Paynter said the team’s youth also became an obstacle.

“When you look at it, we were very young last year,” he said. “We only had one senior, and as a coach, you never believe you’re going to have to go through a development season, but that’s what it was. This year, we’ve got six or seven seniors and a couple of them are playing a lot of minutes, and that leadership really pans out.

"Like I said, we made a commitment back in November about our character, and I really believe that’s what keeps the team fighting for each other. It’s made each of them accountable to being good people and being good teammates.”

Paynter is under no illusion that the Tigers could compete with perennial powerhouses like 21-time national champion North Carolina, Stanford or Penn State. But Paynter said the team’s goals are more modest.

“This is my seventh season, and it’s something that we talk about with every recruit, with every player here. That’s our goal, to qualify for the postseason because once you get there, anything can happen,” he said. “We know we’re not poised for a national championship this year. That’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to extend our season, be in a position to do something that we’ve never done before and challenge for that conference championship.”

The “anything can happen” cliché played out last year when fifth-seeded Hofstra upended fourth-seeded Northeastern, top-seeded William and Mary and third-seeded North Carolina-Wilmington to win the CAA tournament and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Pride lost to Boston College in the first round.

Banes is confident that the current Towson squad could make a similar run.

“We have a lot of heart, desire, determination, and we’re all willing to fight for each other out there,” she said. “It’s really great to see.”