The Colonial Athletic Association preseason women's soccer poll released on Friday reinforced optimism for William and Mary that is sparked by both the return of eight starters and an influx of new players that will make the Tribe a much deeper side.
After reaching the CAA tourney semifinals last season, William and Mary was picked to finish second and led the league with five preseason All-CAA selections: sophomore forward Sarah Segan, senior midfielder Rachel Moore, senior midfielder/defender Elysse Branton, and honorable mention picks Haley Kent (senior defender) and Mackenzie Kober (junior midfielder/defender).
William and Mary is poised for an NCAA-record 37th consecutive winning season under 31st-year coach John Daly but the Tribe are keen to host the CAA championship for the first time since 2012 and win it for the first time since 2011.
"For us seniors, we want to host," Branton said. "We want to try to win the CAA, host here and hopefully win it here in front of our fans."
The Tribe's first scrimmage is on Sunday at Wake Forest before the season opener Friday in the James Madison Invitational against Providence. The home opener is Aug. 24 against New Jersey's Fairleigh Dickinson.
Five things to watch
Blend of old and new: In total, 21 players are back for the Tribe. The senior class is six strong and 11 freshmen have joined the program including former Jamestown standout Page Frantz.
Frantz helped lead Jamestown to the Group 4A championship game in the spring before shining in central defense for the Legacy W76 Women's Premier Soccer League team in the summer.
"I'm excited about the depth we have this year," Daly said. "We were struggling a little bit last year with some injuries and we weren't very deep. This year, we're going to be very deep, which is really exciting."
Battle at CB: Florida transfer Lauren Kelly, an Ashburn native, is among several players competing for one of two vacant center back positions for the Tribe.
Kent and junior Arundel Miguelez are included in that mix although Kent is adept at outside back and Branton can play either as a holding midfielder or in central defense.
Goalkeeper: Five goalies return for William and Mary including redshirt senior Grace Smith and senior Samantha Johnson. The pair split time last season and Daly said the competition in the net will be ongoing.
Strike force: Segan and senior Sami Grasso make for a potent duo at the top of the attack.
Segan led the team with 10 goals last season to go along with four assists and Daly expects Grasso to be capable of a similar scoring output after netting four last season.
"Sammi is small but quick," Segan said. "She's fierce. She can dribble through anyone and get some serious goal-scoring opportunities, which is awesome."
Segan missed her entire freshman season with a torn meniscus before returning to near the same quality Daly scouted when she starred in high school in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley.
"The first time I saw her I really blinked because she's got great size but she's fast as well," Daly said. "I think pretty much every time I saw her play in youth soccer she scored goals so I had no doubt she was going to be a good collegiate goal scorer."
In the midfield, the Tribe also returns Moore, a senior, and the team's leader in assists last season with five and second-leading scorer with six goals.
CAA: A rash of injuries were partly responsible from keeping William and Mary from posting consecutive NCAA tourney trips in 2016.
The Tribe was eliminated in the CAAs then by top-seeded Northeastern, the preseason favorite to top the league this fall. The Wildcats welcome back preseason player of the year Hannah Lopiccolo for what Daly expects to be another CAA season marked by parity.
"I think the CAA battle is going to be intense this year," the William and Mary coach said. "I think there are three or four teams that could easily finish up in that No. 1 spot."
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.
2017 CAA Women's Soccer Preseason Poll