The Fall Season of EU Athletics is going to be a lot of fun. Young teams and optimistic coaches seem to be the standard for the six teams competing this fall. How young? This seems unbelievable, but 56 of the 119 student-athletes competing this fall, are freshman. Don’t think of this as a rebuilding year. Men’s and Women’s Soccer enter the season ranked 3rd and 2nd in the MAC Conference, respectively. Meanwhile, Volleyball and Field Hockey are the pre-season favorites in the conference.
Alongside these four perennial powerhouses, the Cross Country team is already readying themselves for a good season. The men and women have both logged top five team finishes in early season meets. The historically large squad of 32 runners is poised to make some noise in the MAC.
Speaking of historic squads, Volleyball Coach Mark Birtwistle is also in unprecedented territory, with a record 8 freshmen on a 14 player squad. Birtwistle states, “The focus in the early season is on finding roles and meshing.” The team enters the year ranked 9th nationally after a scintillating run to the Final Four last year, but they also enter the year without household names, Courtney Reinhold and Maria Horning.
Birtwistle isn’t focused on the past. The goal is to get better one game at a time, as former role players step up and become play-makers and leaders.
With the losses of an “influential senior class,” Coach Dan Mouw’s soccer team is going through a similar process. Mouw thinks of it as a cycle. He is already impressed with the way this year’s senior class has risen to their new responsibility as team leaders. Mouw highlighted Seniors Katelyn Rittenhouse, Aly Goodman, and Kelsey Doutrich as difference makers on the team.
Eastern coaches take pride in their scheduling. Soccer, Vollyball and Field Hockey have frontloaded their seasons with nationally ranked competition. Thus, early season loses ought to be taken with a grain of salt. The Men’s Soccer team, for example, plays a schedule which last year was ranked #1 in Eastern’s 46-team region.
The good news for Men’s Soccer is that this is Coach Mark Wagner’s deepest set team in years, as well as his best recruiting class. In early season play, five of Wagner’s whopping 16 freshmen have seen time in the starting lineup.
The Field Hockey team also has their work cut out for them, facing six teams ranked in the Top 25 nationally this season. But playing tough teams is nothing new for the favorite in the MAC Conference. Despite some early-season muscle pulls, Coach Cameron Azzarano thinks her team is headed in the right direction. Azzarana stresses depth and adaptability as keys to success this year.
Last year, Eastern had four conference champions in its fall season. This year, our fall teams have targets on their backs. Can they rise to the occasion once again?