After being guided to their most successful season in school history, members of the women’s soccer team will try to build on that in 2002 with one notable absence.
On May 17, the University announced the resignation of head coach Jim Blankenship – the man who had been at Miami since the program’s inception in 1998. A month later, athletic director Paul Dee announced the hiring of former University of Illinois women’s soccer coach Tricia Taliaferro as the Hurricanes’ new coach.
“I am very excited to coach the women’s soccer program at the University of Miami,” Taliaferro said. “The University of Miami has a strong commitment to athletics and I am honored to be a part of it. I am truly excited to work under the leadership of Paul Dee and President Donna Shalala.”
Under Blankenship, Miami finished the year with a 10-9-1 record and for the first time in school history advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Despite a first round loss to Georgia, there were several highlights over the course of the season for the Hurricanes, including the emergence of freshman Brittany Butcher, and a 5-0 run to start the year.
The highlight of the win streak came in September at then No.20 Florida, as senior Deidre Bass scored the lone goal of the match, and junior goalkeeper Rachel Elsby stopped all seven Gator shots in a 1-0 Miami victory.
“This was a great win,” Blankenship said. “It speaks volumes about our team and the direction our program is going. I am so proud of the team – they did exactly what we asked of them and it paid off.”
The Hurricanes recorded another major victory in their first Big East match of the season as sophomore Allison McWhinney scored the game-winning goal in a 4-2 win over No.18 Syracuse. Important Big East victories, however, was hard to come by for the Hurricanes, as Miami dropped conference games to Connecticut, Boston College, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. A 3-1 loss to Florida State on Oct. 25 left the Hurricanes with an 8-7-1 record going into the final stretch before the Big East Tournament. Elsby attributed much of the drop-off to the events of Sept. 11.
“We lost a lot of momentum, and ended up taking about a week and a half break,” Elsby said. “It affected our fitness levels and also gave us a long break.”
Miami would win their final two games of the regular season – against Stetson and South Florida – by a combined score of 12-1, which seemed to give the team some momentum heading into a first round Big East Tournament match-up at West Virginia. The Hurricane offense, however, went flat against the Mountaineers and, despite eight saves from Elizabeth Swinson, Miami fell 2-0.
The Hurricanes gained a berth into the NCAA Tournament due to their early season success, and took the lead 2-0 against Georgia on goals from Bass and McWhinney. The Bulldogs, however, would strike back with two of their own before halftime, and then put three in the net within the first ten minutes of the second half, en route to a 5-2 win.
“We started the match very strong and played well,” Blankenship said. “We just needed to take that momentum and play strong for the entire match, something we will improve on.”
One of the reasons for the Hurricanes’ first NCAA berth had a lot to do with a solid mix of veterans and newcomers. Butcher led Miami with eight goals and eight assists and 24 points. Junior Laura West was second on the team with 22 points, and Bass chipped in with four timely goals. The Hurricanes also received help from the tandem of Elsby and Swinson, who combined for a 1.93 goals against average.
The Hurricanes signed six new players in the off season, who will look to help Miami improve on their third place finish in the Big East Northeast Division. Among the recruits are Jackie Garcia, a 5-6 midfielder from Gulliver Prep in Miami who was named to the All-Dade team four consecutive years, and 6-0 goalkeeper Jessica Keller, who won two Colorado state championships. The Hurricanes will need all the assistance they can get due to a grueling 2002 schedule, which includes two invitational tournaments, as well as road contests at Connecticut and Syracuse. Nevertheless, the players are ready for the challenge.
“We’re very excited about next season, especially since we are only losing two starters,” said Elsby, referring to departing seniors Alexis MacKenzie and Bass. “Our freshman class is among the best we’ve ever had, so we have a lot of expectations for next season.”